Using music to help seniors cope with the coronavirus pandemic

Author: Jeff Cramer
NewBridge on the Charles employee, Leticia Alvaraz, plays a violin while wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

Many of our lives have changed drastically since the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world. We’re staying home, quarantined, isolated, and lacking social interaction.

The seniors who live in Hebrew SeniorLife’s five senior living communities have been sheltering inside their apartments to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Throughout this difficult time, employees and volunteers have been delivering meals, making daily wellness calls, organizing various programs, picking up essential supplies, and much more.

For many of our seniors, social interaction is something they look forward to and need for their physical and emotional health. That’s led our teams to be creative in how they can keep residents engaged. One thing that has really brought everyone in our communities together during this challenging time is music. It’s become a way to engage and interact with employees and other residents, at a safe distance.

At Jack Satter House in Revere, a group of employees performed a sing-a-long outside the senior living community while residents watched and sang from their open windows.

“Everyone at Satter House is experiencing the highs and lows of this, as we are, so we’re trying to make as many highs as we can during this time,” said Lynda Bussgang, director of multigenerational programming.

Lynda also partnered with colleague Sheila Waxman, director of sales at NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, to perform a concert of Broadway show tunes that was broadcast to NewBridge residents in their apartments via the in-house TV channel. Hebrew SeniorLife’s other communities have also broadcast concerts via in-house TV and conference call.

It can be especially difficult for residents with dementia to process the changes in their habits, separation from each other and their families, and the associated anxiety. As part of the music therapy program in Memory Care Assisted Living at NewBridge, therapeutic program manager Leticia Prieto Alvarez co-wrote and recorded with residents a very special song, “This Shall Pass.” For people with dementia, music can help them access language that may otherwise no longer be available to them, and the process of writing the lyrics and selecting music that matched the emotion not only helped residents process their feelings, it also gave participants a way to provide comfort to the community.

The residents are also participating in dance therapy, sing alongs, storytelling, and other activities to keep interacting while they remain safe in their apartments.

“Music is a good way to touch each other without real physical contact, which is so important right now," says Leticia. “I will stand behind a quarantine door playing a guitar for them if that’s what it takes for me to be there for them.”

At Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, our long-term chronic care hospital with locations in Boston and Dedham, the staff is providing alternative ways to make sure patients stimulated and engaged. They are organizing concerts with staff participation and patients are shown live performances online through a link, with a schedule that mimics the in-person events that patients are familiar with. For example, the spiritual care and life enhancement teams join together to provide Shabbat services every Friday, called “Celebrate Shabbat.”

“Whether we are reading a poem or story to a patient, coloring, or helping with a crossword puzzle, we’re doing everything we can to make sure our patients stay active and engaged,” says Jana Galvin, life enhancement coordinator.” We’re doing everything we can to support our patients.”

If you’re looking for a way to help those affected by COVID-19, please consider a gift to Hebrew SeniorLife’s COVID-19 Senior Response Fund. All donations are helping to keep our patients, residents, and staff safe and engaged in the face of tremendous adversity.

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Expressive Art Therapies

Using music, dance, and art, our expressive art therapists provide psycho-social support to seniors experiencing a wide range of issues, including adjustment to aging, health status changes, depression, and anxiety.

Jeff Cramer

About Jeff Cramer

Former Content Specialist

Jeff Cramer was the Content Specialist at Hebrew SeniorLife from 2019-2021, where he contributed content for digital platforms like social media, the HSL blog, the HSL website, and e-newsletters. Jeff spent five years as a local TV news anchor and...

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