“Music has unbelievable power to bring back memories because it’s so deep in your soul.”
Jerilyn (Jeri) Iacono, Music Therapist at Liberty’s Paul’s Run
Music can reach us in profound ways that other mediums—such as the spoken or written word—cannot. While we’re under its peaceable spell it can transform moods, trigger memories, and even transfigure physical strength.
For the older adults we serve throughout our Liberty family of services, music does all of these things and more through compelling music programs that deepen or re-awaken contentment, purpose and meaning for our residents and clients.
Jeri Iacono, a music therapist and community life manager at Liberty’s Paul’s Run, regularly enjoys the heartwarming experience of seeing residents—especially those with cognitive challenges—become joyfully animated as soon as a sing-along begins.
For instance, she points to 90-year-old resident Ellen*. Though her memory is now severely impaired, Ellen is transformed whenever and wherever she hears music.
“When Ellen moved into Paul’s Run she was very active in both the community and her church. Eventually she began to cope with dementia and it has gradually gotten worse and worse,” says Jeri.
On a typical day Ellen is forgetful and can become confused and anxious about her surroundings. Trying to coax her out of her room often provokes anger and agitation.
“Worship is very important to Ellen so we regularly encourage her to come to devotional services. Yet, being caught in the throes of advanced dementia, Ellen strongly resists. But, as soon as she hears a few bars of devotional music, she begins to sing. All of the anxiety and worry immediately melts away,” says Jeri.
“Ellen not only enjoys devotional music, but also her favorite songs of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. She may not remember what she ate at her last meal but she remembers all the words to these songs. We see her happily singing and tapping her feet—and it helps her to socialize more.”
The transformative effects of music that Jeri sees and hears are not just incidental. Outside research has proven that seniors can derive great benefit from musical interaction, including, among many things, a happier outlook on life, improved social interaction and self-esteem, and reduced tension and anxiety.
Our Liberty family is harnessing the benefits of music through several programs including Music and Memory, a program that brings comfort to memory-impaired residents through individual playlists, the Threshold Choir, a small chorus of soothing a cappella voices that sings bedside to hospice patients, and a brand new music therapy program at Paul’s Run created by Jeri called Harmonies for the Heart.
The ultimate goal of Harmonies for the Heart, says Jeri, is to complete a music assessment for each personal care and health center resident and then develop a personalized music plan.
“Starting this September, residents will be able to participate in community music opportunities, join small ensembles, or receive individual music sessions. There will be many options available, some of which include tone bar and choir, chorus, music appreciation classes, drum circles, rhythm band, music lessons, and vocal lessons,” says Jeri.
Indeed, it can’t be argued that the healing effects of music are remarkable. A former president of the National Association for Music Therapy may have summed it up best when she said “music therapy can make the difference between withdrawal and awareness, between isolation and interaction, between chronic pain and comfort, between demoralization and dignity.”
*Fictitious name used.