Listening Activities

Listening activities can be a good way to spend time relaxing with a loved one without needing to rely on conversation, and in ways that can bring back lots of enjoyable memories of times past.

Enjoying Music - includes video

Enjoying Music

Music can be a source of enjoyment for many people. You may want to try singing with the person. Alternatively if singing is not a hobby of theirs, you may want to listen to their favourite songs with them. Find a quiet private place to encourage the person to sing or listen to the music.

Find out what the person’s favourite music style, artists and songs are. You may already know, but you may need to ask other family members or, if relevant, facility staff for more recent preferences.

At home you can use your stereo, but if you are visiting in a facility, it may help to upload music on a portable music player (MP3 or phone) and bring portable mini speakers for better sound.

Preparation

Upload music on a portable music player (MP3 or phone) and bring portable mini speakers.

You might like to prepare some visual prompts. For example, you could bring pictures of the particular artists you are going to be listening to. You may want to bring the lyrics.

Tip: Remember to print the words in a large enough font.

The Activity

  1. You could ask the person, using the associated pictures of the artists, which music they would like to listen to.
  2. If you have brought the lyrics, hand the sheet to the person.
  3. If the person finds it hard to choose, you can just start a song of your choice and observe the response. It may need some trial and error, because their preferences sometimes change.
  4. Once the music is playing and the person seems to be listening, you can start singing along. Point to the words and see if they can follow.
  5. Singing or not, as long as the person is engaged, you can continue this activity. Other positive indicators include humming, head bobbing and drumming on the table. You may want to join in with what the person is doing.

You may want to:

  • just listen to the music
  • sing for the person if you are comfortable doing this
  • look at the pictures of the artist and talk about who they are, what they are doing, what kind of clothes they are wearing? (You can also make this into a sorting activity if you bring several images of each artist.)

You could:

  • sing without the print-outs of the lyrics
  • stop the music at the chorus and keep singing
  • demonstrate the use of the music device and step by step teach the person how to independently operate it.
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Feel the Rhythm

Feel the Rhythm

This activity is very similar to Activity 6, but it is non-verbal. The activity uses a rhythm instrument (such as maracas).

Find out what the person’s favourite music style, artists and songs are. You may already know, but you may need to ask other family members or, if relevant, facility staff for more recent preferences.

You may find maracas or a different rhythm instrument at an Op shop or variety store.

At home you can use your stereo, but if you are visiting in a facility, it may help to upload music on a portable music player (MP3 or phone) and bring portable mini speakers for better sound.

Tip: It may be best to find a quiet place, so that the person feels free to join in.

Preparation

Upload music on a portable music player (MP3 or phone) and bring portable mini speakers.
Find a rhythm instrument (such as maracas).

Alternatively you could make your own rhythm instrument, perhaps with the person. For example, you could fill empty paper towel rolls or plastic bottles with rice, beans or coins and tape the ends.

To make this into an activity you can decorate the rolls using the person’s favourite colours or patterns; you could use paint, coloured paper or fabric.

The Activity

  1. You could ask the person, using the associated pictures of the artists, which music they would like to listen to. If the person finds it hard to choose, you can just start a song of your choice and observe the response. It may need some trial and error, because their preferences sometimes change.
  2. Give an instrument to the person to hold and keep one for yourself (if there is a pair).
  3. Demonstrate how to use the instrument.
  4. Shake the instrument with the music and encourage the person to join in.
  5. Shaking or not, as long as the person is engaged you can continue this activity. Other positive indicators include humming, head bobbing and drumming on the table.

You could try:

  • just listening to the music
  • moving with the rhythms yourself with the person watching
  • clapping to the music instead of using instruments
  • holding the person’s hands or supporting their elbows to assist the shaking
  • looking at pictures of the artists and talk about who they are, what they are doing, what kind of clothes they are wearing.

You may want to:

  • use different rhythms and invite the person to follow suit
  • let the person set the rhythm and pace
  • work with one instrument in each hand; shake different rhythms with each hand.
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Dancing

Dancing

Many older people have danced in their earlier years, especially ballroom-style dancing. This may be an opportunity to go back to their days of the foxtrot, waltz or tango.

Do some research on the person’s favourite dance; and find a couple of basic steps or sequences.

At home you can use your stereo, but if you are visiting in a residential aged care facility, it may help to upload music on a portable music player (MP3 or phone) and bring portable mini speakers for better sound.

Preparation

Find a couple of basic steps or sequences from a favourite dance. You could write these down breaking them into steps.

Upload music on a portable music player (MP3 or phone) and bring portable mini speakers.

The person should be wearing comfortable shoes.

The Activity

  1. Put on the music and invite the person to dance by offering your hand. Help them up.
  2. Stand facing each other about half a metre apart and while holding hands sway to the music.
  3. Demonstrate the first step and lead them to follow. Move slowly and perhaps start with them moving forwards.
  4. Repeat the first step frequently, before going on to the next step.
  5. Once they get used to the motions, join the steps together to make it more complex or ask them to move backwards.
  6. Add more steps if the person wants to.
  7. Be aware that they might tire quickly. Allow a rest and then ask if they want to continue.

You could try:

  • practising only very basic steps, such as forwards and backwards or making a box step (You can throw in a little spin for yourself and see how they respond.)
  • sitting the person in a comfortable higher chair, taking their hands (you can sit or stand yourself) and moving their arms back and forth to the rhythm of the music.

You may want to:

  • bring in clothes related to the dance style they like – perhaps two options for each, so that the person can choose. You might like to do their hair (and make-up) and dance in style
  • ask the person to teach you a couple of moves: it does not really matter if these are existing moves or are made up on the spot.
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Exploring an Instrument

Exploring an Instrument

This activity will work best with people who have played an instrument earlier in life.

You could find out if an instrument the person played earlier is still around. If not, an Op shop may have one.

Preparation

Bring an instrument the person played earlier in life. Cleaning the instrument can be an activity of its own.

Tip: Instruments, especially their own old ones, may elicit some emotions. So take it slowly. First show the case, gently open it and show what is inside.
Observe the person’s response: are they enjoying this?

The Activity

  1. Show the person the instrument or case and then open the case. Instruments, particularly their own old ones, may elicit some emotions. So take it slowly.
  2. Take the instrument out and hand it to the person or invite the person to take the instrument out by holding it close to them.
  3. Talk about the instrument. Feel the different textures and explore about the different parts.
  4. You may be able to demonstrate how the instrument is played, and then invite the person to participate.

You could try:

  • holding the instrument for them and pointing out different parts
  • printing out a (large) picture of the instrument and matching the parts on the picture with the parts on the actual instrument. Gradually invite the person to match the parts you point out on paper to the parts on the instrument
  • bringing in some recorded music for this specific instrument and listening to it with the instrument at close hand.

You may want to:

  • bring in some sheet music. You can study the notes together or invite the person to play the piece to you
  • carefully take the instrument apart step by step and put it back together again.
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Reading - includes video

Reading

Reading is a skill that is usually retained for a long time. Sometimes it may seem as if the person is no longer able to read; however, this may be due to the size of the print. It is important to discern what sized print needs to be used for the person (you may like to use the type size test in Appendix A).

Preparation

If it is still within the person’s capabilities, bring in actual newspapers, magazines or books they like.

The Activity

  1. Present two options (e.g. a newspaper and a novel) and ask the person what they would like to read today.
  2. With the person being able to see the pages, start reading headlines, photo captions or text.
  3. You might like to ask them to read some to you
  4. At first turn the pages yourself, but then you could invite them to turn the pages.

You could try:

  • bringing books with large print, or copy and enlarge certain pages
  • bringing recorded books or read to the person
  • bringing picture books to talk about
  • discussing photos in a newspaper or magazine.

You may want to:

  • If reading is relatively easy for the person, ask them to select articles and chapters to read to you. With a novel they can read you a chapter each day.
  • You could use newspapers to discuss current affairs.
  • People from a non-English background may have a first language with a different alphabet (e.g. Greek or Mandarin). Even if you are not fluent in their first language, you could bring in newspapers and books in their first language and ask them to read to you.
  • As an alternative you can print pages with symbols from their first language and English translation; ask them to teach you their first language.
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