When we’re feeling useless… (adapting our care during the pandemic)

What is a family carer to do in a time such as this? While family care associations and public health organizations around the world have been working on online certificates, toolkits, documents and reports to enable us to become “essential partners in care,” we are still largely locked out of the lives of our much-loved family members in long-term care homes.


One-to-one iPad “visits” can be difficult for understaffed care homes to set up and carry out, and not all family members with advanced dementia can make sense of our disembodied presence on a screen. Where’s that voice coming from? Why aren’t you here? Screen time just doesn’t work for everyone. Especially if care home staff don’t feel comfortable enough with the technology to introduce it well.


That same feeling of uselessness can also apply to volunteers, many of whom have gotten to know and love residents through their arts and social activities, such as music sessions. When the door to “music therapy” remains closed, what can we do? Why should residents, our loved ones, have to endure the sound of silence?


For those of us who now have slightly more time to worry about what is happening to our loved ones behind closed doors, we now also have the opportunity to channel our anxieties into musical activities. We could, for instance, pick up and re-learn how to play a musical instrument we once attempted in childhood, which turns out to be good for our own brain health, too. Or we can practice singing traditional and popular songs.

For instance, we can play or sing culturally appropriate songs – even if it is all solo – in care home courtyards or outside lounge windows, where people are assembled. It’s not a rocket-science suggestion, but it sure can feel good – for musicians and listeners alike.


Just a note:

It’s usually best to check in with care home activity coordinators first, to help set up things and ensure that people really do want to hear a holiday tune. Something that really stands out in my mind when my mum was in hospital over Christmas is that we were asked if we would like to hear some Christmas carols from volunteer carollers going from room to room.


It’s important to always ask people if they would like to hear holiday songs, because sometimes memories of bygone holidays can be sad, or people are just not in the mood.


And can’t we all relate to that feeling, too?


(by Amanda M.)