Back Then: A Community Grant Providing Much More than Music Therapy

Where words fail, music can often bridge the gap, and in this case it’s vastly improving the quality of life for Chester area seniors living with dementia.

 “I’m quite familiar with dementia,” says Dawn Harwood-Jones. “Both my parents had it and I remember playing for my father and him singing all the way through the songs.”

Dawn is the creator of Then & Now, a music video project which has brought together seniors from Shoreham Village long-term care facility and local youngsters. The students interviewed the residents and together wrote a song comparing the world today with life when the residents were the age of the young people involved. They composed Back Then with the help of singer-songwriter Laura Smith and Juno Award inner Jim Henman. They then brought in veteran Land & Sea videographer, Robert Guertin to shoot the video.

“If you want to tell someone they’re important you bring in a camera that weighs twenty-five pounds,” says Harwood-Jones. “And big lights! Everyone had a ball. There’s no question that these people loved being interviewed and loved the whole process.”

The cross-generational venture funded by the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia Community Grant, involved many seniors with varying stages of dementia.

“One woman came in and she had this sort of blank look on her face. And they said she probably won’t sing. She can hardly even speak, but she’ll enjoy the music. And before we started playing… all of a sudden we hear this beautiful soprano voice going, you are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”

The project provided the group with much more than music therapy. The positive, collaborative environment helped seniors dealing with depression get through the challenging winter months. The experience was equally as poignant for the children- with one student calling it ‘one of the most important projects I’ve ever been involved with.’

“The kids learned respect. They learned how to speak up,” says Harwood-Jones. “They learned that they were valid human beings with very rich lives and had contributed to society in a big way.”

Contributions they’re still making today while living full, rich lives with mental illness.


 A dozen young people from the Chester area interviewed residents of Shoreham Village long term-care facility. The result? A catchy music video that compares life back then to what it’s like today. This project was funded by a 2018-19 Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia Community Grant. Our sincere thanks to the Chester Municipal Heritage Society, Shoreham Village, Dawn Harwood-Jones, Laura Smith, Jim Henman, and all the seniors and students involved for truly changing the way people think about mental illness and dementia.