The Magic in Music: Live Music Therapy at Arizona Memory Care Facility

The Magic in Music: Live Music Therapy at Arizona Memory Care Facility

“It gives me goosebumps every time I witness the magic of music.”

On a recent morning at Maravilla Scottsdale, toes were tapping, couples were cuddling and normally silent residents were happily belting out the lyrics to the World War II-era tunes that once served as the soundtrack of their lives.  Music was working its magic, thanks to Songs by Heart, a non-profit organization that uses live, interactive sing-alongs to engage with residents facing memory issues and dementia.

The sing-alongs – led by an effervescent professional singer trained in music therapy techniques and a professional musician – have become the highlight of the day for residents and staff Senior Resource Group assisted living and memory care residences since connecting with Songs by Heart. The program, quite literally, is music to residents’ ears as SRG implements this newest component of Enliven, its creative and adaptive memory care program.

“The concept is easy to understand,” Songs by Heart Founder, Nancy Gustafson, explains. “It’s connecting with people through the joy and language of music. Once you get them singing, it’s amazing how they connect back to life.”

SRG’s CEO, Michael Grust, heard Gustafson speak at a conference about how she started Songs by Heart after witnessing, first-hand, the power music had on her mother’s Alzheimer’s and advanced dementia.

“I saw my mom looking so lost and so sad,” Gustafson detailed. “The minute I got her singing, she started smiling and laughing. She came to life. I saw ‘my mom’ come back.”

At that moment, Grust knew he had to bring the Chicago-based program to Arizona. SRG’s communities are now the first in Arizona to offer Songs by Heart, and since its roll-out, the feedback from SRG staff and residents’ family members has been unanimously jubilant.

Staff members marvel at the incredible breakthroughs residents – including those who seldom speak – experience almost immediately upon interacting with the live performances. Moving to the rhythm of the music, singing along to old favorites, and amazingly, not only attending the sing-alongs, but happily participating. One woman, who rarely wanted to interact with others, got so caught up in the moment at a recent performance she repeatedly stood up from her wheelchair to animate the lyrics.

“It gives me goosebumps every time I witness the magic of music,” Gustafson said. 

And magical it is. Even when conversation and recollection are a struggle, song can quite literally strike a chord in residents’ minds. Like the veteran who remembered songs from his days in the Army, and beamed as he sang along. Or the woman who broke free of her dementia-induced silence long enough to bring her husband to tears when she proudly told him and SRG staff, “He’s mine” during a love song.

Magical as it may be, studies confirm the many benefits of music therapy in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia include memory recall, positive changes in mood and emotional states, sense of control over life, non-pharmacological management of discomfort and opportunities to interact socially with others.

This unique form of therapy perfectly aligns with Enliven, SRG’s memory care program created to help residents thrive, feel more connected, and feel as independent as possible, no matter what stage of the disease they are in. Songs by Heart provides the perfect opportunity for SRG to implement this program throughout its memory care communities.

“There are hardly words to describe the Songs by Heart program,” said Grust, the SRG CEO. “In so many ways, Song by Heart brought to life every one of Enlivens’ five principles and more. Our residents will be able to truly live these guiding principles through quality programs and the Enliven culture.”

And this is only the beginning.

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