Upper Arlington News

On a positive note

Music program helps seniors fight 'blues'


Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Theodore J. and Thelma G. Tobbe Fund of the Columbus Foundation, National Church Residences will start or continue programs at several of its facilities to help combat depression and loneliness through the power of music.

Java Music Clubs will be established at the Upper Arlington-area First Community Village and Hilltop Senior Village on Columbus' West Side.

Additionally, the grant will make it possible for the program to be initiated at one of NCR's six other adult day service facilities, known as Centers for Adult Services, located throughout central Ohio.

"We're always looking for applications that will work universally and address settings across our facilities," said Dr. Michael Barber, NCR chief medical officer. "This seemed to be something that addresses problems that are common for people in all socioeconomic groups."

Java Music Club is a program founded in Canada by Kristine Theurer, who worked in long-term care for more than 20 years and has master's degree in gerontology.

For one hour each week, residents at the selected NCR facilities will gather with a facilitator in a mutual support setting where they will sing and play small instruments along with music chosen by the group.

Photos will be shared as discussion topics to develop relationships among residents in the senior housing units.

Barber said the program has proven effective in providing social activities that hit at depression and loneliness among elderly populations, particularly those in senior-living environments.

"We've demonstrated at our own housing facilities that about 30 to 40 percent of our residents will experience depression and loneliness," he said. "It's very prevalent and it's something that's particularly (troublesome) at that stage of life."

Barber said depression and loneliness lead to distress, suffering and reduced quality of life for many elderly people. In turn, he said, their families are affected.

Java Music Club uses a peer-support model to improve the quality of life for seniors, he said.

"We introduced the Java Music Club at several of our communities in November 2013, when the founder of the program facilitated a two-day training for staff and residents at First Community Village and Hilltop Senior Village," Barber said. "The results were phenomenal. Both residents and staff witnessed immediate, positive behavioral changes and an increased sense of community among the participants."

Char Christensen, life enrichment director at First Community Village and NCR, said her staff began to introduce Java Music Club in December and is in the process of taking the program to various units throughout its facility.

She said one exercise includes passing a "talking stick" among participants, which encourages each member to share.

By relating thoughts, she added, seniors trigger their long-term memories; and music, photos and singing stimulate hearing and sight.

"The primary purpose is for groups to gather and share their experiences, their hopes, to support one another and to have fun," Christensen said.

"They're sharing their stories and respecting each other. It's almost like their own support group."

"It sounds like an activities program when it's actually a therapeutic program addressing these issues of loneliness and isolation," Barber said. "From Java Music Co., we actually get a CD with the music as well as all the instruments. There is a focus to each weekly meeting and the group agrees to that.

"It is a mutual support group and uses activities as a focus to get people connected to one another. It allows people who otherwise wouldn't talk and express themselves to talk and be heard."

Theurer said data from organizations that have used this program for years show that participants realize multiple positive benefits, including decreased feelings of isolation and loneliness, increased empathy for others, new respect and understanding for people and positive coping skills such as self-management of health.

"Numerous positive health outcomes have also been reported among participants who have moderate to severe cognitive impairment," Theurer said.