Story by Mike Brannen

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We all have our favourite kinds of music - pop, blues, rock…the list goes on and on. But what if the music you loved in your youth could help you as a senior? One of our programs, Music Therapy in Long-Term Care, does just that! It uses music to help seniors living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in long-term care facilities live richer lives.

Paige Morrissey is a music therapist. She says “progress always looks different from client to client, but behaviours do change.”

Paige has a degree in Music Therapy from Acadia University. She currently works with HeartSparks Music Therapy. This innovative business provides programming in five different senior care facilities in HRM. By working with our friends at Seniors Mental Health, the Foundation has been able to secure a Named Grant to cover all of the costs. It comes to us through the generosity of the Windsor Foundation.

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“It varies so much from day to day and it’s always an amazing experience,” says Paige.

All of the seniors who participate live with mental illness. During the therapy sessions, progress is measured using the Dementia Observation Scale. “Progress for one client can be drastically different than progress for another,” says Paige. Perspective clients need to have specific behaviours to qualify.

Dr. Barry Clarke the Medical Director at Northwood – Live More and a geriatric family doctor. Has seen how challenging and unpredictable seniors living with dementia and Alzheimer’s can be. “Some seniors with dementia can be pleasant and easy to deal with, but others can be aggressive and even sometimes violent, music seems to have a calming effect.”

Paige, and the other music therapists involved in the program focus on familiar songs that evoke fond memories. When asked about her most popular song Paige doesn’t pause. “It’s You Are My Sunshine, without a doubt! Songs that seniors learned when they were young are the ones that are most likely to get a positive response.”

Music Therapy in Long-Term Care is a true joy to be a part of. It provides a much better environment for our residents and really does help with aggression,” says Dr. Clarke.

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Music therapy sessions can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour. “The amount of time really varies from senior to senior and from group to group,” says Danielle DeBay. As an Occupational Therapist for Seniors Mental Health with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Central Zone, Danielle gets to see the results first-hand. “Right now, we’re in five facilities, but the more funds raised the more seniors we will reach,” adds Danielle.

Paige says she has many memorable moments from her last four years with this program but her favourite experience centres on Bob from Saint Vincent’s Nursing Home in Halifax. He advanced from short-term one-on-one therapy to being called “Bongo Bob” by the staff at the facility. “His progress has been remarkable. He’s one client I have really noticed a big change in,” says Paige.

“For Bob, music therapy has become a more effective tool to control his aggression than taking a pill,” says Dr. Clarke.