Choral Music Brings Comfort and Joy to Memory Support Residents

Category: Community Life

A wise person once said, “Music is good for the soul.” This notion rings true at Friendship Village of Bloomington in Bloomington, Minnesota, where 60 or so independent living residents are active members of a long-standing choir at the retirement community. The ensemble, dubbed Sing for Your Life!™, has been belting out tunes for the past decade. Recently, select members of the group began voluntarily holding weekly sing-along performances for memory support residents who are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“We just want to lift their spirits, and what better way to do that than through music,” said resident Betty Bentley, one of the choir’s lead organizers. “This is something we’re very passionate about, and it’s been a rewarding experience for all of us.”

Bentley noted there’s a strong musical tradition in Minnesota, which she refers to as “the land of 10,000 choirs.” Many Friendship Village residents have sung and listened to choral music throughout their lives. She believes those in memory support are receptive to her group’s performances because of this familiarity and the soothing nature of music.

“We mostly sing old songs that are familiar and special to seniors,” explained Bentley. “Hymns, Christmas carols, songs from musicals — you name it. Even when residents don’t verbally communicate, seeing smiles on their faces and the look in their eyes is all the more reason to keep doing what we do.”

Bentley’s observations are telling of the therapeutic benefits of music for people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. According to the Mayo Clinic, music can relieve stress and reduce anxiety, depression and agitation. The Alzheimer’s Association also notes that listening to music can help stimulate memory recall and improve cognition.

Sara Hamm, ‎senior vice president of successful aging and health services at Lifespace Communities, applauded Sing for Your Life! for taking the initiative to improve the lives of fellow residents.

“Emotional and spiritual well-being are crucial to good health and wellness, especially among those with Alzheimer’s or other age-related dementia,” said Hamm. “What Sing for Your Life! is doing is a great addition to the highly personalized care our health care professionals provide. The trust, friendship and love our communities foster between residents and team members is truly evident within this program.”

Sing for Your Life! is one of many successful aging initiatives offered at Lifespace communities with support from Masterpiece Living®, a multispecialty group that partners with senior living organizations nationwide for such programs. In fact, the endeavor helped Friendship Village earn Masterpiece Living®’s Center for Successful Aging (CSA) designation, which recognizes the community’s culture of growth and empowerment for residents, team members and others.

Bentley and the rest of her ensemble are looking forward to sustaining their memory support initiative for the foreseeable future.

“I worked in long-term care for 30 years, so I’ve seen the benefits of music firsthand,” added Bentley. “I’ve seen people who’ve lost their ability to communicate excitedly play the piano or other instruments, because this brings back great memories. Exposing people to music leads to special outcomes.”

A Thoughtful Idea

Resident Betty Gutmann, former chair of the health services committee, is the mastermind behind the Sing for Your Life! memory support initiative. Gutmann came across an article describing similar programs and thought Friendship Village could benefit from implementing such an initiative. It didn’t take much to get choir members like Betty Bentley on board, and the rest is history. Gutmann considers this to be one of her crowning achievements as committee chair, and she’s thrilled with the difference it’s making in residents’ lives.