By Deborah Shouse, author of Love in the Land of Dementia

On September 11, 2001, my mother was scheduled to move from her current care community to a brand-new memory care facility. After watching the horrific demolishing of the twin towers, I called my father, suggesting we do this another day.

“No, I want to get it over with,” he said.

I could barely drive, so burdened was I with fear and sadness. And I worried about my mom and what her reaction to the chaos might be. But Mom was remarkably cheery, happy to see me, and ready for an outing. She got into the car easily and walked happily into her new home. And because she was happy, my mood lifted. She was right there in the shelter of her present moment, and I was lucky enough to join her, at least temporarily.

Now, we’re facing a different kind of crisis, and besides keeping ourselves healthy and safe, we want to make the most of our time together. Despite the stress and worry that surrounds us, this forced “home alone” with family may bring us many blessings. When I interviewed experts for my book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together, I learned about the inherent creative abilities of people who are living with memory loss. Exploring musical and artistic outlets during this challenging time can help us stay connected with our loved ones who are living with dementia and with ourselves. Here are some ideas.

Make Things Better by Conducting Fun

Maestro David Dworkin moves his baton and a Strauss waltz begins. But instead of facing a sea of symphonic musicians, the auditorium is filled with people also holding batons, following the Maestro’s movements. They are engaged in the Maestro’s globally renowned exercise program, Conductorcise.

As the music continues, two women begin to waltz in the aisle. Later, he learns that these women are living with dementia. “They haven’t moved in months,” a healthcare worker tells him.

At a memory care unit, he passes out batons, handing them even to people who seem slumped and unresponsive. He introduces John Phillip Sousa, offering a few tidbits about the composer. Then he starts a Sousa march and leads his group in vibrant upper body movements. Soon everyone, even three people who seemed oblivious, are conducting along with him.

Such is the power of movement and music.

Leading with Benefits

“The vibrations and energy of the music speak to people,” says Maestro Dworkin. “You benefit from relieving stress, building aerobic stamina, improving listening skills, and increasing social engagement while imagining yourself leading a symphony orchestra.”

As a bonus, you can learn a little about the lives and works of the great composers.

The program appeals to all ages and abilities and has spread around the world, from Holland to Canada to Singapore.

Conducting for Two or More

The program works wonderfully one-on-one.

“You can’t do anything wrong,” Maestro says. “You don’t even need a baton. You can use chopsticks, unsharpened pencils, a straw, or just your arms.”

Here are a few tips for enjoying Conductorcise:

  • To get started, you might say, “How about helping me conduct this tune?”
  • Select a familiar song your partner enjoys, one that might also inspire conversation and singing.
  • Move your arms and upper body to the music and encourage your partner to move as she wishes. Move your lower body as well, if appropriate.
  • For those who need extra support, add eye contact and gently stroke their arms.
  • Invite friends and family members to join you.

“Everyone wants to be a conductor!” Maestro Dworkin says.

Visit to glean ideas from Maestro’s listening library and information about his training and certification programs.

Julliard-trained Maestro David Dworkin has led orchestras across the globe and performed as a clarinetist with ensembles internationally. He served as conductor and Artistic Consultant for three PBS Television documentaries in the series Grow Old With Me and devoted much of his career to working with young people. In his 80s, he has become a sought-after role model for all, demonstrating how exercise, music, joy, and a positive outlook can create a healthy journey through life.

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