With the first snowfall and the approaching winter months, many of us begin a period of hibernation. We find ways to keep warm, to embrace less daylight, and pass the time; cozying up by the fireplace, reading a good book by candle light, binging on the next series on Netflix. As appealing as these sound, this may also mean we are turning down invitations to be with friends and family and doing things that motivate and inspire us. We become more isolated which can lower our mood, make us even more unmotivated, and thus isolate further.
Winter is not the only reason isolation can occur – like other life stress or events that shift our mental wellness – such as an injury or illness that causes a hospital stay, or a move to long-term care. During times like these, music cannot be any more vital.
I was first introduced to Carl by way of a referral to the long-term care facility’s Recreation Therapist. He had moved in recently, now living apart from his wife of 35 years, whom he adored. He wanted nothing to do with anyone who came along to check on him; staff, other residents, and family alike. Carl refused all interaction and asked to be left alone in his room. It was even rare that he would come out to the dining room for meals. Music therapy was an offering that could be given to Carl where he could remain in his room and not have to talk. I could share familiar songs and he could simply listen. And that is exactly what happened for the first couple of weeks. I sat in a chair in the corner of Carl’s room and would play and sing for 15 minutes while he listened. Upon my arrival on the third week, Carl announced “I’ve been waiting for you”. This time the moments between songs were interjected with Carl’s comments and even a couple of stories from his army days.
Each week that followed, he shared more and more stories and spoke about how much the music meant to him.
Carl also began engaging more with staff and other residents – “hello”s would be exchanged, more meals in the dining room were had, and he would often mention the music therapy sessions. Within a couple of months, I would find Carl waiting at the entrance of his room when I arrived. He would greet me with a smile and a humorous quip. Memories and stories would pour out of him following each song shared; he now had the opportunity to share his life, to be validated, all while the music boosted his mood. Carl now moves about the halls often, initiating conversation with other residents, joking with staff, and telling of how music therapy is the highlight of his week. Many times, I will find him in the dining room, waiting for my arrival, and as soon as we begin he is inviting others who pass by to join in. He encourages them to listen, sing, share their memories, and as always share a laugh.
Music creates a point of entry, a point of connection that can move us from our isolation to a greater relationship with each other.
Ways you can also incorporate music intentionally for your wellness:
- Set time weekly to explore new music via music apps or on YouTube
- Share favourite playlists with your friends and family
- Have a dance party in your home to boost your energy and mood; invite others to join and dance all on your own
- Engage a Certified Music Therapist, whether in person or virtually, to support your wellness goals
Written by: Shannon Robinson, MTA