Audrey Andersen sits in the country kitchen with some of her fellow residents in Nichol neighbourhood at Riverside Glen, still in the circle they’d gathered in when their young guests joined them for a new intergenerational music program. This is the fourth week the 45-minute sessions have been offered, and both the residents and the children who attend with their mothers seem like they’ve grown entirely comfortable together.
Audrey smiles when she’s asked about the children who just said their goodbyes to run off to the café for a snack. “They’re really good,” she says. “I love just love the children and the people and they all enjoy it as well, so it’s very good.” As with many of the people living in her neighbourhood, Audrey lives with the changing symptoms of dementia. This program connects her to familiar music and the memories the songs inspires, while adding the energy of the children, all pre-school age.
Sarah Valeriote and Lindsay Wydman both work in long-term care in recreation and both are currently on leave to care for their young children. They’re also friends with Riverside Glen recreation director Carrie Perkins, so when Carrie mentioned the idea for the intergenerational music program, they both jumped at the chance.
“I know the benefits for older people being exposed to younger bodies,” Lindsay says. “Some families don’t come into visit and some older people don’t get that experience too much, so I see the benefits, but also for my boys to be comfortable with older people as well.”
To see them running around the music circle earlier as Riverside Glen music therapist Kathy Lepp finished the last of the morning’s songs, it was clear the boys were comfortable.
Lindsay believes that through the connection with their “grandfriends” in the program, her boys will learn the foundations of empathy and compassion at a young age. Sarah agrees.
This was only Sarah’s second week attending, so her son is still warming up to everyone, but before she arrived she and her boy spoke about kindness and sharing, and Sarah later smiled when he shared his scarf with one of the residents.
“It just takes time to warm up to any new environment and as the weeks go on, it will get easier,” Sarah says.
Kathy, the music therapist, couldn’t have been more pleased when Carrie suggested the idea for the program. She knows the power music can have for residents in long-term care facing loneliness and social isolation, especially those living with cognitive impairments. Bringing young families into the mix in a group setting simply adds to the many benefits.
“The part of the brain that is the last to deteriorate in illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease is the part that responds to music,” Karen says. “The kids just bring energy. So many of these residents, they are parents and grandparents and they’re used to seeing kids in the house, so it makes sense to add the energy of kids in the house with music.”
The smile lingering upon Audrey’s face as she reflects on the morning suggests the program is definitely a success. “It’s wonderful, it really is, to see them and they’re all enjoying themselves,” Audrey says. “I hope that it will continue because we’ve had a lot of really good friends come along.”