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This spring semester, students at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts pursuing a degree in music therapy will partner with Presbyterian Village North (PVN), a senior living community in Dallas, to lead weekly therapy sessions as part of their degree requirements, which entail that they get firsthand experience with seniors. The students lead sessions on Mondays at 1:00 p.m. with residents living in healthcare services, and on Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. with residents living in memory care. The program was kick-started this month, and will go until the end of the spring semester. Students will make assessments of the attendees, set goals, write treatment plans, work through their plans and eventually conclude them. Mary Ann Hyde, a resident of PVN and a board member for the Meadows School of Arts, initiated the development of the partnership between SMU and the senior living community.


“I feel that music has the ability to touch the heart and soul, evoking powerful responses from the mind and body,” said Hyde. “My husband and I always felt strongly about the importance of education, and I am so excited that PVN and SMU have the opportunity to partner together to educate students and provide beneficial services to seniors. I was talking with Dean Sam Holland, who oversees the Meadows School of the Arts, when he mentioned this program. He put me in touch with Dr. Robert Krout, head of the music therapy department, and we set about bringing the partnership to fruition. We are so grateful that they have chosen our campus to partner with and help enrich the lives of the residents.”


Each group is comprised of 10 to 15 residents, and they meet for an hour each week. This part of the students’ curriculum is based on requirements of fulfilling 1200 clinical hours, 180 of which are done in school, the rest of which are completed through an internship at the end of their coursework. Students in their fourth semester start work on their gerontology rotation. When the students and residents meet, the therapy session begins by having everyone sit in a circle. Then, leaders will begin a “hello” song to help everyone get to know each other. Throughout the course of the session, leaders will work through music therapy interventions that address goals that pertain to range of motion or physical endurance, cognitive or memory skills, self-expression or emotional wellness, problem solving, fine motor skills and socialization. The group then concludes with a “goodbye” song for closure.


“We are studying the effect music has on physiology and neurology, as well as how we can use it to encourage the changes we wish to see,” said Janice Lindstrom, adjunct lecturer of music therapy and clinical supervisor for SMU. “We ask attendees what music they enjoy listening to, and if they cannot speak, we look up music that was popular when they were in their 20s, as this is the time frame that tends to be more meaningful for them. Getting residents to actively make music has the greatest effect, and this is what we use to elicit responses during our therapies. When we begin the session, participants tend to become more alert; there is more engagement and increased socialization on an interpersonal level. While we cannot reverse the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, we can create a space in which meaningful interactions and connections take place.”


Last week Lindstrom began the meeting with the song “K-K-K-Katy,” sung by a man who has a stutter. First they sang the original lyrics, and then took turns putting the participants’ names in the song. This exercise helped residents remember the starting letter sound for the name of the person they were singing about. This led to better name recognition, and it helped attendees make eye contact with the person whom they were singing about. The therapy sessions are focused on creating meaningful interactions in that moment. Most of the students do not have regular interactions with older adults, so this part of their curriculum helps them to see that seniors are just like them, they just have a few more experiences.  


“Music is one of the first things we hear from the time we are an infant, and it grows with us as we grow, changing with the seasons of our lives,” said Jennifer Runnels, director of nursing for PVN. “It is intended to be comforting and to establish connections. Seniors participating in music therapy become more alert because the songs are familiar to them. People who usually sit and do not do much or talk much will awaken and begin to light up with expressions, subtle head shaking, finger-snapping or humming. We are so happy to see the SMU students working with residents here at PVN. It is heartwarming. This is wonderful experience for the students, especially those who have not been around many seniors. They are getting firsthand experience in a community that cares about its residents greatly. They can see the difference we are making together.”


Presbyterian Village North is in the process of implementing additional music programming, and plans to develop additional music therapy sessions in the future with the expansion of its memory care units. Currently, the community brings in many entertainers who perform songs from the genres these generations of seniors grew up listening to, and the seniors themselves have iPods that contain playlists that have been individualized for each resident’s listening pleasure. The iPod program and some of the entertainers are funded by the PVN Foundation whose mission is to enrich the lives of residents. Throughout the week, PVN staff notices a big reduction in disruptive or moody behavior when music therapy is implemented, and because of the positive energy they can reduce medications given to residents in memory care. The music simply improves their overall quality of life.

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