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Music centers the soul

Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids is using music to engage more than 100 residents.

“When words fail, music speaks.”

You wouldn’t necessarily expect a children’s author like Hans Christian Andersen to attribute a power to music that exceeded the written word!  But that’s his quote, and he was right.

Music stays in the soul. If you’re not sure about that, just turn on the radio to your favorite music station, and see how long it takes for you to start humming along or tapping your toes. Our bet is it won’t take long!

Now Clark Retirement Community is using music to engage more than 100 residents in skilled nursing and assisted living. Music therapy is a well-respected method for drawing people into social activities and delivering therapeutic benefit. What, you might ask, is therapeutic about music? The certified music therapists from the Franciscan Life Process Center and Senior Sing A-long do more than just play catchy tunes. “You listen with your ears,” says Renee Van Y, Life Enrichment Specialist. “A music therapist draws on many other senses.”

For example, one of our therapists recently came in wearing a grass skirt and bringing leis for everyone. Her theme was – you guessed it – Hawaii! She got the residents talking about Hawaii, and reminiscing if they had visited the islands. Then she started playing Hawaiian music and had the group doing some simple movements. On other occasions, she might bring in instruments for the residents to play, engaging their creativity and perhaps recalling some past musical training.

Why Does It Work?

It may be hard to believe, but music has a profound impact on our brains. Here are a few things you may find interesting about how the mind connects to music.

  • Music is a core function in the brain. Research has shown that day-old infants are able to detect differences in rhythmic patterns. We don’t yet know why, but our brains are wired to respond to music, even though it’s not “essential” for our survival.
  • We have physiologic responses to music. Every time your breathing quickens, your heart rate increases, or you feel a shiver down your spine, that’s your body responding physiologically to music. Qualified music therapists can use this to help stimulate a person in a coma or use music effectively to help someone relax.
  • Music helps improve our attention skills. Music can grab and hold our attention. This allows music therapists to target attention and impulse control goals, both basic skills we need to function and succeed.
  • Music taps into our memories. Have you ever been driving, heard a song on the radio, then immediately been taken to a certain place, a specific time in your life, or a particular person? Music is second only to smell for its ability to stimulate our memory in a very powerful way.

What Does It Do for Residents?

“The results of this therapy are nothing short of amazing,” says Renee. “I have never heard anyone say anything negative about the program. The residents absolutely love it. The most incredible thing is the amount of focus that this therapy creates. Each person stays completely in the moment for 45 minutes. That’s great for their minds, their emotions, and their self-esteem. When music therapy is over, our participants are happy and calm. No one is restless anymore. Everyone is centered.”

Please Help Us With an Encore!

Music Therapy is a wonderful program that we know improves quality of life and emotional wellbeing. However, it is not something that Clark can fund through operational dollars. The Music Therapy program was made possible this year by 23 generous donors.  Together, they gave more than $36,000 toward the cost of music therapy. This gift pays for three music therapists – two at Keller Lake and one at Franklin Street. We are partnering with the Franciscan Life Process Center and Senior Sing A-long to bring their music therapists to our campuses each week. We reach more than 100 residents though this beloved program.

When 2017 ends, so does this “concert year.” Will you help us with an encore? The next time you’re humming or swaying to the music, think about how much it means to you….and what it means to residents who come together each week to engage in this way. You can make a gift to the Music Therapy Program by contacting the Foundation Office at (616) 452-1568 ext. 147.

~This feature originally appeared in Clark Foundation, a newsletter of Clark Retirement Community Foundation. Reprinted with permission.