Ruth Langevin has been a music therapist for over 30 years. Music therapists are among the few people allowed in to seniors facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Tyler Harper

Ruth Langevin has been a music therapist for over 30 years. Music therapists are among the few people allowed in to seniors facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Tyler Harper

Music therapy ‘a godsend’ for isolated B.C. seniors during pandemic

Nelson’s Ruth Langevin offers a brief respite from COVID-19 with song

The elderly woman was crying when Ruth Langevin arrived for their session. It wasn’t clear why she was upset, so Langevin held her hand for a time until she gathered herself.

Langevin was scheduled to work with the Nelson Jubilee Manor resident on turning her poems into songs, which they’d done before as gifts for other residents. The woman took piano lessons in her youth and could explain to Langevin how she thought the song might be played.

As they spoke, the woman remembered how her piano teacher used to reward her for playing well with a rendition of “Rustle of Spring” by Norwegian composer Christian Sinding.

Langevin didn’t know the song, but she had a music app on her phone. It only took a moment to find and play “Rustle of Spring.”

“She just sat back, she closed her eyes and she cried,” said Langevin. “And she said, ‘I have not heard that piece in 60 years.’”

This is the comfort Langevin, a music therapist with over 30 years of experience, has provided during the pandemic in local seniors facilities where families are restricted from visiting and recreation options are limited.

Music therapists, who are considered an essential service, are among the few visitors allowed in B.C. seniors facilities. Langevin’s activities with residents include group classes where she can be a performer, composer and cheerleader all at once.

There’s nothing passive about her classes. Instead, she encourages her participants to sing, to use rhythmic instruments like chimes, to clap and move as best they can.

The classes are a part of Nancy Mackay’s routine at Mountain Lake Seniors Community in Nelson.

Mackay has two children living nearby who she hasn’t been able to visit with during the pandemic. But she says her year has been OK, in part because of Langevin’s classes which Mackay says accommodate residents who never learned how to play an instrument.

“They still have music in their heads, even if they haven’t learned any instrument,” she says. “I think they still have tunes going on through their heads.”

Jean Broster, another resident at Mountain Lake, is one of Langevin’s regulars with no music background.

But for her, music is a time travel machine. In her room she keeps cassette tapes she used to play on Saturdays at home when her daughters were still growing up.

“I look today at my big container sitting there with all the tapes and think of all the good times we had over 50 years.”

Many of Langevin’s seniors are in various stages of dementia. But music still speaks to them, in sometimes surprising ways. Langevin says even participants with advanced dementia can still songs verbatim.

“It’s in their long-term memory, whereas they won’t know what day it is or their phone number or whatever, but they do remember things from their youth,” says Langevin.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors facilities had many more options for activities.

Rose Anderson, the recreation co-ordinator at Nelson Jubilee Manor, says she used to rely on volunteers to entertain residents. That might mean trips into the city, coffee dates, calling a game of bingo or even bringing in bands to play.

“Then COVID hit, and all that stopped,” says Anderson. “And all that we have left is music therapy, which has been like a godsend.”

Langevin’s work is funded by the Friends of Nelson Elders in Care through the Osprey Community Foundation.

George Millar, president of Friends of Nelson Elders in Care, says studies have shown the benefits of music therapy to the mental health of residents.

“Elderly people who don’t really seem to show any alertness even about the general situation going on around them will perk up and pay attention and even get involved some when there’s music happening.”

Anderson has also seen it first hand. Residents whose cognitive functions are impaired will sing along with Langevin, tap their toes and even move a little despite physical limitations.

“It’s something that you kind of have to witness to see how wonderful it is,” says Anderson.

In a class, Langevin tries to make eye contact with residents and incorporate aspects of their past into her songs. If a person enjoys gardening, for example, Langevin will sing a song for the green thumbs.

And when it works, when a resident either sings along or just taps their foot, it’s those small glimpses of life that reward Langevin.

“I feel honoured to go because it’s all about improving their quality of life and not letting them deteriorate because of loneliness or depression.”

READ MORE:

For B.C. seniors in care, it’s been nearly a year of isolation to combat COVID-19 outbreaks

Have a heart: Nelson woman reaches out to isolated seniors

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man was sentenced to more than a year in jail for a late-night robbery in Courtenay last April. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Late-night Courtenay robbery results in 500-plus days in jail

Heatley’s sentence also includes probation, DNA order, firearms ban

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

The CSRHD board has diverging views on its relationship with Island Health. File photo
Comox-Strathcona board ponders relationship with Island Health

“We have to stand together … to get our share of the health budget.”

The CVCDA Accessibility Project is creating safer ramps at the Courtenay facility. Photo supplied
Accessibility project underway at Comox Valley Child Development Association

Over the past month, you may have noticed some construction underway behind… Continue reading

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards South Island film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Most Read