Music therapist Graylen Howard says COVID-19 is leaving residents of long-term care homes more isolated than ever before and he’s finding new ways to keep them happy and engaged.
Only a month after starting as the music therapist at the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s satellite location in Nanaimo, Howard, a classically-trained cellist and French horn player, was forced to modify his programming to comply with social-distancing requirements.
“It’s been different for sure and it definitely presents its challenges as well because of course it’s about finding creative and different ways to connect and engage with the residents and it’s evident how important music is to the elders,” Howard said.
Under normal circumstances, Howard would be working at multiple long-term care homes in Nanaimo conducting group therapy sessions with up to 10 people. Activities could include singing and writing songs, analyzing lyrics, improvising with instruments and participating in drum circles.
Over the past three months Howard has limited his appearances to Eden Gardens, a facility that caters to those with dementia, and his sessions are now one-on-one. Thanks to a PA system acquired through a sponsorship with music store Long and McQuade, his performances take place in the Eden Gardens courtyards where residents can listen from a safe distance.
“They’ve been able to watch from the comfort of their own windows, from up above on the second floor but as well as the first floor,” Howard said. “And it’s just been honestly making a phenomenal impact and just the joy that music’s still being able to bring to the residents is really something.”
Howard has been playing classical music as well as country music, pop and jazz from the 1940s to the ’60s, as he says residents are able to recognize music from their youth. He said there are emotional and behavioural benefits to listening to music as well and residents have made touching comments about the value of music to them. Eden Gardens staff are also grateful that he’s been keeping up with his work.
“Continuing our music therapy program during this pandemic is really important to the well-being of our residents,” said Erin Beaudoin, Eden Gardens executive director, in a press release. “We are so fortunate to have Graylen on our team.”
Howard said his activities and performances bring “a little bit of light and joy” to the residents’ days, which he said is especially important at a time when family visits are not permitted.
“They need us now more than ever,” he said. “Overall, personally, it’s been different but I’ve learned a lot about myself as a music therapist, but as well as continue to learn a lot about the elders each day and they teach me new stuff every day as well.”