Along with the idea that bingo is a suitable pastime for older people, there is a commonly accepted notion that the best thing to sing at a care home is ‘songs from the war’ such as the “White Cliffs of Dover”.
When considering repertoire, the first thing to grasp is that there are no rules. What is suitable for one older audience may be completely unsuitable for another, and the best way to approach this is always to get to know them. The creative process is always far more rewarding where it is a genuine collaboration with audience and participants. In the context of care homes, this includes residents, carers and home staff.
It is also important to consider that older people in care homes have as much right as anyone to an authentic artistic experience. Musicians performing in such settings may need to present their work differently, but they should always behave with integrity, and seek to provide music of the highest possible quality.
Balancing familiar music with less familiar
Playing familiar music has a particular role within the support of those living with dementia, as it can help re-engage people who may not be fully ‘present’. Our Evidence Review provides more details about this. It can have a very powerful and uplifting effect. Once this engagement has taken place, there is far more scope to be creative, learn new skills and to perform music that is less familiar. This exciting stage is where longer-term benefits can accrue.
One inspirational organisation that has explored singing for people with dementia is the Healthy Living Club in Lambeth. Their website describes their approach in detail, and includes several lists of suggested repertoire and vocal exercises, based on their experiences. It is entitled “Let’s Not Sing Tipperary! (every time)” and may be an excellent starting point for musicians or care homes considering how to approach this.