One of the many services at Life Care Center of the North Shore in Lynn, Massachusetts, is music therapy.
The program started in autumn 2017 under the direction of new activity director, Sarah Blacker. Blacker is a board-certified music therapist, as well as a singer and songwriter. She enjoys sharing her love of music with the residents.
“I truly feel that music’s greatest power is to connect,” said Blacker. “Music elevates, escalates, inspires, evokes, soothes, propels, motivates and so much more.”
Currently, Blacker is joined by Josh Thompson, music therapy intern from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Blacker’s alma mater. Thompson comes from a musical family – his grandfather and great uncles played in a band called The Jordan Brothers that had singles that topped the charts from the 1950s-1980s. Thompson himself has been playing guitar for about 13 years.
Music therapy at Life Care Center of the North Shore is three-pronged:
In group sessions, Blacker and Thompson lead residents in a variety of musical interventions. They start with a greeting song and incorporate singing and musical instruments. Blacker provides time for structured and improvisational instrument play, which helps residents with fine and gross motor skills, and singing familiar songs from residents’ younger days helps them reminisce and bring back positive memories. The group can also include songwriting so residents can express their thoughts and create something original, or drumming, which has been proven to reduce pain and anxiety. Residents can also move to music with scarves or streamers.
The one-on-one sessions give residents the chance to learn to play instruments or have Blacker or Thompson accompany them or assist them with their music.
Events can include karaoke sessions with residents and associates together, mealtime music played by Blacker or Thompson to set a relaxing dining atmosphere, music and art sessions, choir practice sessions and performances and disco parties in which residents are encouraged to sing along with music from time gone by, play along on instruments or even dance as they are able.
“Residents who are often very withdrawn present in music therapy as fully engaged, bright and one might even say ‘fully functioning,’” said Blacker. “I see people who may typically sit silent, head down, eyes closed, open their eyes, tap their toes, open their mouths, clap their hands and loudly and expressively sing along once the music begins. I watch them become social, recall pleasing memories from their past and socialize with their peers. It’s like magic, but it’s science too.”
Thompson, has noticed much the same response from residents.
“Music can reach these residents in a way words cannot,” said Thompson. “The staff’s dedication, the familiar bonds created through the music, seeing the residents achieve things they might not be able to without music… the facility just has a really nurturing, fun and accepting energy.”