Music does More than just ‘Heal the Soul’

September 19, 2014

by Len Lathrop

Once again, your Pelham~Windham News was invited to share in the programming at Windham Terrace Assisted Living as they celebrated Assisted Living Week.  This year’s theme,” The Magic of Music,” holds true for many people, especially the elderly, as music can do far more than entertain.

On Thursday, that evening’s entertainer was “The Irish Music Guy” Kevin Farley performing and sharing his many instruments, including the harp, flutes, fiddle, drums, bones, guitar, mandolin as well as family stories.  Throughout the entire week, the residents and their families had been treated to a different themed performer.

Music plays a tremendous role in the lives of seniors and can provide fulfillment, bring back memories, heal and bring people together.  Music can have a powerful impact on anyone, but it releases a tripwire of powerful memories for the elderly.  This is why music therapy is one of the most effective treatments for seniors

Life Enrichment DirectorAlicia Sell talked about her 27 years in the care of the elderly and her excitement about what she had seen, calling it amazing.  With a background in piano and a love of music, she explained that while this week was very special with some type of music every day, she has been allowed with the help of the facility’s Executive Director, Lynda Brislin, to have monthly concert-style events for the residents in which music is used for both entertainment and to enhance residents’ memories.  Sell noted that the executive director also brought a long history of music to the facility as her grandfather played clarinet in the Pops.  Her grandmother taught Boston ballet.  And Uncle Andy played sax with Buddy Rich.

While there are multitudes of studies that document the benefits of music, Sell spoke of the residents, who had came to Windham Terrace, unable to talk due to everything from strokes to other medical issues.  While HIPPA rules prevent divulging more personal information about the residents, she spoke of the progress people had made with speaking and how it started with some memory of music that allowed the voices to begin.

Even though Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia will ravage many parts of the brain, long-term memory of music from when one was young remains very often.  So if you tap that, you really get that kind of awakening response.  As Sell can attest, it’s pretty exciting to see.

The proof came very soon in the evening as “The Irish Music Guy” started his performance.  With the mandolin in his hands, he led the way and the 50 or so residents sang along.  Farley did invite them to sing along but as they sang he encouraged them in-between verses.  As he switched instruments, seven in all, he told jokes and asked questions, he explained that all four of his grandparents came from Ireland and that made him “100% American.”  He talked about the history of the music he was playing and the instruments he used.  He told of the 1912 Broadway song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and asked if anyone had seen the show.  He told them to do what he does when he doesn’t know the words – just make some up – and he did.

At one point during the evening, Farley spoke about “Music has a place in your heart, where time stands still.”  After talking with Sell and watching this generation sing, there is no more fitting place to end this report.