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Greater Resident Engagement and Quality of Life through A New Twist on Sing-Alongs -- Part Two

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This is Part 2 of interviews featuring the Songs by Heart sing-along program that combines performance with music therapy. Here Pam McDonald, Senior Housing Forum -- The Podcast Producer and Co-Host, interviews Annette DeCamp, Program Manager at The Kenwood by Senior Star Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. Annette delineates the myriad benefits of the program. [Those who missed Part 1 can read to it HERE. Or listen to the entire podcast HERE.]

PAM: How did you find Songs by Heart? 

ANNETTE: They actually found us. So, one of our residents here in independent living, her granddaughter, Emily, does Songs by Heart and she's one of their coordinator trainers and helped bring the program to Cincinnati. So, she reached out to me and asked if she could demo here at the Kenwood and I jumped at the opportunity. And two years later they were able to make the program possible in Cincinnati, so we got them right away. 

PAM: That’s great. Um, what about their program convinced you that it would be the one you wanted to use as opposed to other music therapy for dementia residents?

ANNETTE: We use a variety here. There is no one answer for any group of residents. Everybody is going to react to something differently. Like the headphones with the iPod is going to work for some and interaction and hands on is going to work for somebody else. And old records seem to hit the key for some other people. So, we try to offer a variety here and hit all areas. But there is something about this program. So, Songs by Heart, you have to audition to become a pianist to play the music, to accompany the singer. And the singer has to audition too. They all have vocals, like they all have strong voices.  

It’s All About Reaching the Residents

ANNETTE: They go through a special training session where they learn more about dementia. They know how to reach the residents. They learn the proper way to touch and engage a resident through eye contact and touch, touching their hands or their arm, or they get to know the resident.

And our group has continuously grown since the moment they've come in. We have two separate memory care units here. Both units make sure that they are in the area where Songs by Heart is playing because it touches so many when they sing. And they're singing songs that are familiar to the residents from days gone by and they're singing some that might be very familiar, like “Happy Birthday’s” pretty popular. 

PAM: [Laughter.] I bet. Okay. So, what do you believe the value of the program is to the residents?  

Bringing Happiness and Joy to Residents

ANNETTE: I think the value, it's just indescribable almost. The way that they are able to engage with a resident. The way that we are able to engage our residents because we're all active when this program is happening. The associates get involved, all of us are involved, they're professionals are involved. We are engaging with these residents. We are bringing smiles, we are singing with them, we are talking to them. They are walking away with a clearer mindset. 

People who can't even repeat an entire sentence to you or get out a full sentence, can give you one, maybe, after this program, and I'm not saying every time, but a lot of times it does. And the happiness that it brings, it's evident on their faces. It's unbelievable. The joy that this program brings.

PAM: Does it last beyond just the program? 

ANNETTE: I think it does. I think that it hangs on throughout the rest of the day and then I think that that resident is easier to engage throughout the rest of the day. 

PAM: What about with families? What's the results or the benefits there?  

Opportunities for Family Members to Reconnect with their Loved Ones

ANNETTE: I think that they're amazed that someone who may not be able to recall their name can sing every single lyric in a song right next to them. And they're like, just bewildered. Or they're like, “Oh my gosh, you remembered all of that.” 

Or the wedding song. We have a, a little gentleman down in Memory Care North, Chick, and his daughter, Becky, was in the program one day. And the song that she had played as the father-daughter dance for her wedding, they sang that. Chick got up out of his wheelchair, which you know, he's a standby assist, gets out of his wheelchair. She's holding onto him and they are very slowly dancing to the song as tears are streaming down her face. 

I mean it's giving them moments that they don't get any more. It's giving them that connection and that song connected with Chick to the point where he knew he wanted to dance with Becky. 

PAM: Nice, nice. What about staff? Any comments from the rest of the staff?

ANNETTE: They like learning the “new” songs. These are songs from the Forties and, you know, Thirties, Forties, Fifties. “Oh, I like this new music.” Really? So, it's fun. I think what they get the most out of this is watching the residents’ reactions, is watching them light up. It's watching them engage. It's . . . a resident will make eye contact with one of them and not let go until that associate recognizes them and then that makes the associate go over to them and be like, “Hey, I know Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” you know, and it gets them involved too. 

PAM: Nice. Have you guys studied it in any way or taken notes to see if it makes any lasting changes?

ANNETTE: Not documentation-wise. I mean we document like who comes to the program, but now we really don't even have to do that because it's everybody in memory care is coming out for this. It's not something that we're tracking, but we're seeing it. I think it's something that we're noticing, especially in behaviors like everybody's a little happier on Thursday afternoons and it carries through.  

The Performances Make the Activity Special

ANNETTE: There's less behaviors at shower time in the evening and there's less behaviors at dinnertime. They're still a little perky and if you happen to mention a song that they had sung in that session, everybody starts singing in the dining room. So, it's contagious that way. 

I think the biggest thing about Songs by Heart is I could sing a song with you and I could engage you and I could make eye contact and I could be sincere, but I don’t have the vocals. Like, I can't carry a note in a bucket. I do it anyway. They're trained, and they do, and their voices are beautiful and they're singing right at the resident.

I mean this is, it really is contagious, and it really is because of the professionals that they bring to this program. We sing to them all day long. It's not the same. We're going to keep doing it, but it's not the same. 

PAM: [Laughter.] Okay. So, can you tell me a little bit about Kenwood, is it Kenwood at someplace or is that the correct name of the community? 

“They Give Us the Resources to be Great.”

ANNETTE: We’re the Kenwood by Senior Star. And Senior Star, and I said this to someone earlier today, I feel very fortunate that I work in a place where they give us the resources to be great. They give us the resources that we need to be phenomenal and this is one of those programs. By investing in the programs that they offer, they're investing in our residents, so they saw that this was going to be phenomenal and they, in turn, invested in it and made sure that we have it. 

We offer this every week. It's 3:30 on Thursdays every week. We also ask that if you're in the community and you want to pop by and see what it's all about and you're considering a retirement community, we'd love for you to come by and visit.

PAM: Are family members invited all the time too?

ANNETTE: Absolutely; yes, family members can come to anything we offer throughout the building. 

PAM: That's great. You said you have two separate memory care programs. How many people are in them? 

ANNETTE: We have, I'll say roughly 45 memory care residents. I'll say roughly. We're a 16-story high-rise that's independent. So, we have . . . total residents in the Kenwood community, we have over 400. 

PAM: Wow. That is a lot. And you said independent, do you have any assisted living? 

ANNETTE: Independent, yes, it’s the 16-story high-rise. We have two floors of assisted living, the third and fourth floor, and part of the third floor is also a skilled nursing unit that takes care of 14. We have 14 beds there, 14 residents. Always has a waiting list. 

PAM: Okay. So, I had Jenny Cook talk to me about how other communities can, at least, start using some of the principles of music therapy, you know, right away. What about you? Can you see a difference between just a music program and music therapy?

ANNETTE: Yes, and that's what I just said. We offer different music programs at a variety throughout our communities. We have live music every Monday with different professionals coming in to sing and play for our residents every Monday. We have the iPod program in place. We have music on tapes and records and albums all over the building. We have jukeboxes that are loaded with every kind of variety that they could want. 

Music Triggers Nearly Forgotten Memories

ANNETTE: I mean, music is a big part of our lives and it's something that stays: like, it just triggers a memory. It's, it stays, the lyrics stay. If you, um, are of Christian background, those songs that you sang in church stay, all those hymns. Everything that you grew up with stays, so music is important and no matter how you offer it. But given the opportunity to have this program come into your community, I would jump at it. It's amazing. They have been wonderful to work with and they get to know our residents. How many people come in that actually really want to get to know your residents? They want to and need to know their audience. 

And they say things, like they trigger memories with our residents because they know them. They'll say, “Hey Bob, what was Marilyn Monroe's maiden name?” Because he went to high school with her and they know that. 

PAM: Wow. Yeah. Well Annette, it sounds like you're really sold on this and on your company, but is there anything else you'd like to tell me at this time? 

ANNETTE: Yes, I am sold on this and I am sold on this company. I, I've never seen this, and I know that . . . I've worked in other communities and I just know that the resources aren't always available and they're not always there. And that's not always their top investment. So again, that Senior Star invests in their programs’ team, that they invest in the residence through the programming. I just can't say enough good things about it.

I am thrilled to be a part of this team and to be able to be a part of Songs by Heart and helping them come here. I am very grateful that we get to offer this program that they used to do.

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