The Music Care Partners Program

by Chelsea Mackinnon

One of Room 217’s key activities is evaluating the use of music resources, training, and practices within care settings. Research and evaluation are important as they provide objective feedback about the effectiveness of music in care. At Room 217, our current research focus is in front-line care settings, such as long-term care homes. Our goal is to conduct research while simultaneously changing the lives of current residents through music. During the summer of 2017, I had the pleasure of working on the Music Care Partners Pilot Study, a formal research investigation to determine the impact of the Partners Program on long-term care communities.

The Partners Program brings together members of a long-term care community, including residents, staff, and family members to work with the Room 217 research team. Together, they design a “Music Care Initiative” with the end goal of decreasing isolation and loneliness in their community. Room 217 provides training and guidance to the community so that they can use music in an informed way. In our pilot study, we worked with three long-term care communities in the Durham region of Ontario. Start-to-finish, the program lasts six months, and includes education, training, coaching, a music care initiative, and evaluation. The Partners Program helps communities use music to meet their specific community needs.

Partners uses a type of research known as Participatory Action Research, which is unique because it engages community members in the research process. Instead of a research team coming into a setting and doing research on participants, the participants themselves are directly involved in the research process. This allows the community to take ownership over the project and drive it forward to meet their unique objectives and outcomes. In the Partners Program, all three communities designed very different Music Care Initiatives.

Fenelon Court designed a Music Care Initiative called the “Fenelon Follies”, where isolated residents were invited to practice for, and participate in, a Variety Show. Three times a week for two months straight, each participating resident practiced the song they would perform at the Variety Show. The Fenelon Follies each picked the song they would perform; some residents performed individually, and others performed in the bell choir or drum fit groups.

Lakeview Manor took a very different approach and designed Music Care Plans for residents participating in the Partners Program. Staff from different divisions came together to determine the best way to integrate music into each individual’s day. The “music prescriptions” were written into care plans, and carried out by nursing staff, therapy staff, and recreation staff alike.

Port Perry Place designed a Music Care Initiative called “Music Wonder”, which was named by one of the residents who helped with the design. In this program, all staff, family members, and residents are invited to participate in short burst of musicking with residents at Port Perry Place.

The three Music Care Initiatives were designed to meet the needs of each home, but they all were united in their purpose: to decrease isolation and loneliness experienced by residents. Isolation and loneliness are factors that directly impact physical health and wellbeing. It was our hypothesis that through the structured and intentional use of music, the Partners Program could decrease isolation and loneliness, thereby increasing the quality of life of participating residents. We measured isolation and loneliness before and after the Music Care Initiatives were implemented, and found many positive outcomes, both statistically and qualitatively.

The Partners Program led to countless meaningful moments, for residents, family members, staff, and researchers alike. Staff members who were self-proclaimed “non-musicians” learned strategies and techniques so that they could use music with confidence in the scope of their roles. Across all three homes, we saw a significant decrease in responsive behaviours from participating residents. Isolation and loneliness decreased, and we saw an overall increase in community cohesiveness, even for residents and staff members who were not directly involved.

Through the Partners Program, we witnessed many profound changes in participants. Residents were described as appearing “more alive”, and in one instance, a resident began feeding herself for the first time in months. Family members noticed the changes, and began asking staff members what was happening at the home to lead to such profound changes in mood, affect, and behaviour.

The Partners Program helped new residents transition into life at their long-term care home, and helped others cope with health-related transitions. At Fenelon Court, members of the bell choir would attend the program running the hour before bell choir practice, to ensure they were on time and had a “good seat” for the choir. 

The Music Care Partners Pilot Study showed us how strong, resilient, and caring long-term care communities are. It was extremely powerful to witness communities coming together around the common goal of integrating music into the daily lives of residents.

Music makes a difference in the lives of long-term care residents. Our vision is to continue to give long-term care communities the skills and expertise to use music in an intentional and informed way through the Partners Program, ultimately increasing the quality of life of residents.

Chelsea Mackinnon, BHSc, MA, is Room 217’s Research Lead. She teaches two interdisciplinary undergraduate courses at McMaster University, and is the founder of the Hamilton Intergenerational Music Program.