Music Making a Difference at Shepherd's Care

by Deb Bartlett

After members of the Shepherd’s Care Foundation board saw Alive Inside two summers ago, they decided to fundraise for a music in care initiative to support seniors.

Krysta Inch, Therapeutic Service Manager at Shepherd’s Care Foundation, says she wanted to learn more, so she and two others attended a Level 1 Music Care Training offered by Room 217 in Edmonton. Krysta says what she learned was invaluable. A music in care committee was struck, and she felt compelled to share what she’d learned in Music Care Training.   “There is so much more music opportunity then providing music through headphones for individuals, like what was presented in the Alive Inside,” Krysta shared.

Since then, a number of initiatives have blossomed at Shepherd’s Care that are bringing music to the lives of a wide range of residents.

The board wanted staff to broaden their understanding, and agreed for an exclusive training of 30 Shepherd’s Care staff. Krysta says they wanted to empower those champions who wanted to use music in their care. They hired a music therapist for eight weeks last summer, and purchased Room 217’s Pathways Singing Program (designed for dementia). She loves the program because it’s simple to use, and even students have been shown how to lead a session.

Krysta says the reaction to Pathways has been amazing. “It’s ridiculous. I can’t believe how much they love this (program). They love her (Briar Boak, the singing host).”

They love her so much, the rec staff started putting Pathways on in common areas between 2:45 and 3:15. Why? “We’d identified that that was a key time where some residents were experiencing falls.    That’s shift change time, and when staff were charting and reading notes, there were falls taking place in the home. Krysta says falls have reduced during this identified time frame  “It’s an effective tool for us,” she says.

Shepherd’s Care has also created music in care resource carts that are portable. The carts have a TV and DVD player, the Pathways set, and other music resources. They’re small enough for one-to-one visits for residents who are socially isolated, she says, but can easily be adapted for groups.

Shepherd’s Care has also started large singalong groups that regularly draws 50-60 people. That program is running in  several care areas, and draws a range of residents from those who are fully independent to those with severe dementia.

Technology, too, is changing how they’ll be bringing music into the lives of residents. Krysta says they are getting iPads, and Apple music, so they’ll have access to “massive amounts of music.” Residents will be able to see and hear the music at the touch of a finger. 

The homes have also invested in music carts, containing a number of instruments. Krysta says they’re mostly percussion instruments that enable residents to play as a group, or to accompany live entertainers when it’s suitable.

Their music in care initiative also includes the training of all rec leaders to lead drum circles, rather than paying someone to come in and facilitate the circles in the homes. The leaders learned the history and purpose of drumming, and they’ll be leading 30 minute sessions.

Krysta says staff are also creating music moments. When staff see another team member use music in the care of residents, they write it out and submit it in a draw. The goal is to recognize people who are using music in care. The champions were special pins that identify them as a music leader in the home.

A next step at Shepherd’s Care is using music therapy with goal-driven programs, to further the good work that’s already being done. 

Since these initiatives have begun, Shepherd’s Care has been using RAI MDS tools to track outcomes. They’ll be able to show the board how music has made a difference in the lives of their residents.

“We know it’s making a difference,” Krysta says. “This is real.”

Deb Bartlett is the resource lead for Room 217 Foundation. By profession, she is a journalist who has worked in community newspapers in the GTA for 30 years. If you have a story to share about how music has affected your caregiving, email [email protected].