Music therapist improves ADP music programming with Pathways

by Deb Bartlett

What a Difference a Day Makes (WDDM) is concurrently Room 217’s current campaign and a program. It raises money to enable us to give the Pathways singing program to Adult Day Programs (ADPs) across the country. In return, we ask that the program sites track observations for 12 weeks, so we get a program evaluation.

Ruth Watkiss is a music therapist employed by Alzheimer Society Peel. She works Monday through Friday in adult day programs. Half of each day is spent working directly with the clients; they’re incredibly fortunate to have a music therapist not only on staff, but on site one day a week.

When Ruth heard about WDDM, she signed up all five of the ADPs in Peel. All the sites have completed their observation periods, and all have integrated Pathways as part of regular programming. She’s a big advocate of the program.

There are eight staff at each site, and Ruth says all staff have watched the Pathways tutorials. Every new staff member watches them too. “They are learning what the program is, and they can run it correctly,” she says.

Over the summer, Ruth created bundles to go with each episode, so staff don’t have to search for materials to enhance the program. She knows program staff are short on time, so she built playlists and made a YouTube channel that all the sites can access. For example, she has videos of people doing the polka to accompany the Europe episode, and has created a Spotify playlist of several versions of Danny Boy for the U.K. episode.

These bundles supplement the Pathways program. Ruth believes that the secret to the success of the program is not just the singing – it’s the socializing and chatter that takes place during the activities. She says some clients get so involved in the activities, that staff are constantly learning more about the clients. “It’s not just a sing-along,” says Ruth. “It’s about the engagement. The sing-along is great but the extra connections…staff find out about clients,” she says. She doesn’t find the same type of response in other sing-along programs.

Pathways is running at least once a week in all five Alzheimer Society Peel’s ADPs. It’s scheduled for a 45-minute block – half an hour for the episode and 15 minutes for an activity.

Even though Pathways is on the schedule, she’d like to see it run even more frequently. “There are different clients in different days,” says Ruth.

She added Pathways to the five ADPs because “I want a better music program.” She knows that some staff are uncomfortable singing publicly, and they are inspired by Pathways. Ruth says the fact that the singing host, Briar Boake, “gives some confidence to frontline workers who aren’t comfortable. I like it. It’s a great program.”


Deb Bartlett is a journalist by profession, with a particular interest in the health and education beats. As Room 217’s Resource Development Lead, her experience as a writer lends valuable communication and networking expertise within the wide range of Room 217 customers and media relations.