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Music and laughter are survival skills

Have I told you lately that I love you?

You may recall that as the title of a popular song recorded in the mid-1940s. I grew up listening to that song; I find myself humming it as I write this column.

Twenty years after it came out I graduated to another love song with Nat King Cole’s rendition of … well, let me sing it for you, “L is for the way you look at me. 0 is for the only one I see. V is very, very extraordinary. E is more than anyone that you adore.”

Go ahead, sing along. Sing it to someone you care about. And that suggestion brings me to the topic of this column, “caregiving.”

A recent AARP publication offers music as an important way to “infuse joy” in the lives of dependent elders and their caregivers. If you’re someone who gives care to an aging parent or spouse, especially if that relative is in pain, depressed or has dementia, you understand music’s power. And by the way, if you have never been a caregiver, you will be.

My 4-year-old grandson and his ukulele-playing daddy are performing the Nat King Cole love song at a family wedding in a few weeks. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you have witnessed this happy-faced little guy learning the words to the song. You may have smiled at his dramatic arm-flailing musical accents. Smiling leads to laughing, which is yet another way caregivers get as well as give relief.

The author of the AARP article referenced earlier reminds us “as caregivers we are often so focused on health care, safety, finances and logistics we can easily lose sight of quality of life — both for those we care for and for ourselves.”

Caregiving can be suddenly thrust upon us after a spouse’s cardiac event or a family member’s car accident or it can slowly evolve as the age of a loved one increases or a disease condition becomes more complicated. It may go on record as the most difficult, and the most rewarding, work you have ever done. Your title is not “caretaker,” the word is caregiver.

Almost 70 percent of caregiving is supplied by adult children, spouses, partners and friends who aren’t paid for their support, according to AARP and the Family Caregiving Alliance. In its most typical form, caregiving is an intimate, hands-on relationship that stretches and tests your skill set and your patience.

When you’re in the middle of a caregiving experience, music and laughter are “crucial survival skills.” Experts recommend playing musical selections from your loved one’s favorite genre. Sometimes it takes time to find just the right song or artist. But when you do, the results are joyously predictable.

I suggest playing songs that relax, distract or induce special memories. When I was giving care to my now-deceased parents, I knew I was successful if my musical explorations resulted in happy reminiscence and reflection — an oft-told story or one I had never heard.

Perhaps Nat King Cole is describing the caregiving experience with his lyrics, “Take my heart and please don’t break it. Love was made for you and me.”

Sing along.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.