Music therapy brings joy to isolated seniors during COVID-19 outbreak

TORONTO —
Life in Ontario’s long-term care homes has never felt more isolated. COVID-19 has limited visitation and the human connection, cutting off seniors from their loved ones and daily rituals.

At 147 Elder Street, a home for seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, daily music therapy is a way of life, and often the highlight of the day for its 52 residents. While many LTC’s have cancelled such services, 147 Elder has vowed the show must go on.

“When COVID hit we decided to deem these therapists essential,” said Krista Samborsky, director of resident and family relations at 147 Elder Street. “We believe the arts are so important in terms of quality of life here.”

The music hasn’t changed, but the methodology has.

Therapy pre-COVID would often consist of sharing instruments with seniors, and playing in front of large groups. With social distancing protocols, things have now shifted to one-on-one based therapy, with songs performed outside a resident’s room. But the healing power of music can’t be confined. Within seconds of hearing familiar notes, residents often experience a drastic change in demeanour, Samborsky says.

“Music gives them a way to express themselves, it draws them out of their shells,” explained Samborsky. “Music connects with a deeper part of their brains. We’ve seen residents who can’t remember their own names be able to sing entire songs.”

“Now it’s more individually based, they get to make decisions. They get to choose from a couple of songs, so they get more autonomy in that matter,” explained Carmen Ng, a music therapist with Miya Music therapy who has been appearing weekly at 147 Elder Street. “Personally, I get to engage more passively as well. Maybe I see what’s in their room and choose a song based on what I see is important to them. It makes a difference. It’s great I get to be considered essential to the seniors.”

“Probably 85 per cent of our business is in long term and retirement homes,” company founder Miya Adout told CTV News Toronto. “When COVID hit we lost 95 per cent of our clients. Luckily some homes, like 147 Elder deemed us essential, which is fantastic because the seniors can use us now more than ever to improve their quality of life.”   

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