“ I regard music therapy as a tool of great power in many neurological disorders – Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – because of its unique capacity to organize or reorganize cerebral function when it has been damaged.” Dr. Oliver Sacks
Last December, people in early stage of dementia and their family members took part in Alzheimer Society of Toronto’s (AST) first ever Music Therapy Workshop. The one-hour event was a chance to explain what music therapy is and how it can be applied to daily life. Jennifer Kivell, a social worker with AST, organized the event which was hosted by The Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund’s music therapist Chrissy Pearson.
In addition to an introduction to the practice, the session also touched on recent research into the benefits of music therapy on people with dementia. As well, participants were given the opportunity to take part in a hands-on component. “The purpose of the workshop was educational but we also wanted to show people how fun music therapy can be”, explains Jennifer. “Chrissy brought her guitar and we had a sing-a-long. To further engage everyone, we held a jam session. Everyone was given an instrument, be it a triangle, shaker or hand-held drum”, she says. “We started a rhythm, someone would repeat it and then we would add to it”.
Jennifer remarks on the relaxation effect a solid connection with music can produce. “I left that workshop feeling more upbeat, more relaxed. if it had that impact on me, I’m sure it did on others as well.”
Because music is engrained in long-term memory, it can be recognized long into the disease. “People who may not remember everything seem to remember songs and sing tunes. They play as they had previously played”, explains Jennifer. “It’s a great way to bring out strengths and access muscle memory and long-term memory”.
Caregivers left the session with a greater understanding of music therapy and practical ideas on how it can be incorporated into activity plans.
Therapeutic benefits aside, the workshop provided a much-needed creative outlet for many of the participants. “Music is a fantastic way to let out their emotions and express themselves”, says Jennifer.
Due to the success of the inaugural workshop, a second one will be held on Friday, May 30 from 1:30-3:00pm at the Music Therapy Centre, 1175 Bloor Street West. To register or for more information, click here.
*Interview Conducted by Romina Oliverio