A lady in the corner dozes in a comfy chair and a half smile on her face, while around the rest of the great room a half-dozen toes tap to the beat.
Julie Grannary croons “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” while nearly everyone else gently thumps a drum or shakes a tambourine or maraca.
A staff member jigs her way through the room, carrying the good feeling well beyond the small music therapy session at Kiwanis Pavilion.
After a little inclusive preamble, Grannary’s “big band” of a dozen or more residents at Kiwanis Pavilion shift into a chorus as she launches into Paper Moon.
“The overall goal is quality of life,” says the music therapist trained at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. In 2012 Grannary returned to Kiwanis Pavilion to work, following a previous internship at the residence. This is one of her more visibly lively group sessions, with residents who are primarily verbal and somewhat mobile.
“Music is my medium as a way of connecting,” she says. “If I can tap into the right song, they remember the music, their memories come back, they remember the music.”
A resident singing along will often share a story after the song is finished, a memory of Saturday evenings with a sister, or a long-ago love.
She’s overtly aware, seeking signs of recognition, even if they aren’t as obvious as a shared story.
“Once you get them singing, their confidence comes back,” she says.
One fellow is a former drummer now locked up in himself most days, but “if you can get the right song on the right day, all of a sudden he’s drumming,” she says.
“(Residents) have a sense of accomplishment. For that hour they’re back, they start to share memories about the songs we sing.”
Grannary has family members who specifically come when they know their loved one is having a music therapy session.
“They love seeing how their loved ones interact,” she says.
In an illness where the disease progresses, taking more and more from a loved one, friends and family love to see a program where there’s “joy and life.”
“It’s seeing a piece of who they used to be,” Grannary says. “Often they see a moment; they come in and see their parent or loved one interacting where they didn’t know they could.”
One lady would come to group and share tidbits about her dad, a former drama teacher who once interrupted the staging of Jesus Christ Superstar when the actor actually called him out on his poor rhythm during a ‘clap-along’ portion.
“Now when I see him, I sing a song that has that memory in it,” Grannary says.
Resident Rick Campbell loves James Taylor and The Beatles of his youth says his wife Diane Campbell of Sidney. She values the music therapy sessions Grannary offers Rick as he lives with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“There’s a lot of value in it for the residents and the family of residents,” says Diane, who makes the trek from from the Saanich Peninsula most days to spend some time with her husband.
“I don’t know how long I have my husband, so it’s important,” she says. “I love Julie’s music. She’s a caring person. She makes my day sometimes.”
Diane is amazed at the pleasure she feels when Rick offers a slight foot shift to the beat of a good Beatles tune.
“At this stage there’s so little I can do. It’s nice to share something we shared as teenagers, before we were married,” she says, emotion slipping into her words.
“So often I don’t have connection with him … an occasional flash. You go on faith and you go on what we know here.
“If I get a smile it’s a great day.”
Rick is fairly immobile and non-verbal now, but earlier as the disease crept in, the couple would enjoy a dance now and again.
“This journey is so much about perspective,” Diane says. “Who would have thought four years ago I’d be pleased just to see a grin.”
In this case, smiles are not free.
Kiwanis Club of Oak Bay’s winter breakfasts fund the music flowing through the residence and residents. Breakfasts this winter raised $8,488 for the program. Kiwanians served 1,152 meals, up six per cent over last year, with the top day being a January morning with 110 people sitting down to a hot meal.
“Music therapy is one of the programs that we run in the facility that is recognized and accredited, helping residents to have some normalcy to their lives,” said Dave Cockle, Oak Bay Kiwanis Pavilion board chair. “Ultimately music therapy assists, it soothes our patients. It gives them that calming feeling and eases them with the stresses of their everyday life.”
The tea room winter breakfasts also fund other small extras Island Health isn’t able to support, such as an extra bathtub or a lift.
“We’re able to provide that little bit to make their lives that much more comfortable. so it doesn’t look like a hospital environment,” Cockle said.
In spring, the tea room shifts to regular concession hours and raises funds for parks, sports and high schools in a variety of ways.
The Kiwanis Pavilion is a residential care facility serving frail seniors, with a particular focus on caring for people living with dementia of all stages.
Learn more about the residence at kiwanispavilion.ca online.
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Kiwanis Pavilion also uses the Music Memory project, with staff certified two years ago.
“It’s an iPod-based program. We develop a playlist specific to each resident. Everyone has their own style of music,” said Laura Henry, rehabilitation assistant at Kiwanis Pavilion.
They mine family members for information, and sometimes CDs to provide the music, and then watch for signs that a patient enjoys a particular song or genre.
“It’s all about their non-verbal responses as well,” Henry said, adding these residents are fragile, and often non-verbal. “It’s great to see just a little bit of connection there.”
Those with dementia don’t seem to lose the connection with music. “It’s good for quality of life and intervention sometimes instead of medication and we’ve seen some pretty cool moments.”
Volunteers meet residents and family members, then sort music on a laptop, purchased with donated iTunes cards or from CDs brought from home. About one-third of the residents have iPods, some donated, some come from home or their previous housing. “It gives family members something, it’s something they can do together, sit and listen to music,” Henry added.
One non-verbal fellow surprised staff a while after his music was on. “We had his music on for a couple hours and a little later he was humming to himself,” Henry said. “It doesn’t work for everyone, but for 95 per cent of the residents it’s been positive.”