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

Amiri is currently working as a parliamentary intern. (Christian Diotte - Special to The News)
Maple Ridge woman earns scholarship to study law in Montreal

Somaya Amiri, 23, awarded McCall MacBain scholarship at McGill University

Bat Packs are the newest addition to the FVRL Playground, and have everything you need to learn more about bats, and track them in your neighbourhood. (FVRL image)
Bat Packs at Fraser Valley libraries come with echometer to track bats

Packs are the newest part of the FVRL Playground inventory

Online guide expected to make applying for building permits easier. (The News files)
City of Maple Ridge launches new building permit application tool

Users can print or save their results for easy access

Dogs big and small on the patio at Witchcraft Beer Market and Bistro. (City of Maple Ridge/Youtube)
VIDEO: Maple Ridge businesses embrace new dog friendly pilot project

Pets can come onto a patio at a restaurant or enter participating retail spaces

A photo submitted to municipal staff on April 6 showing a beaver dam southwest of Chester Street. The drainage issues on the south side of the highway are the responsibility of CP Rail, as they own the property. Photo courtesy of the District of Mission.
Delegation of Silverdale farmers say land continually floods along Lougheed Highway

Beaver dams, siltation, fallen trees, bad ditching is sinking crops next to recently widened highway

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Everett Cummings in a tribute video posted to dignitymemorial.com.
Mechanic’s death at Fraser Surrey Docks leads to $200K fine for company, union says

Photos of rally outside Surrey court posted on ILWU’s ‘Kill A Worker Go To Jail’ Facebook page

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

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
WATCH: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Most Read