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

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees in Oyster Bay

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

Ladysmith’s Taylor Walters received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award and is hard at work pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Quest University. (Submitted photo)
Ladysmith teen receives Terry Fox Humanitarian Award for advocating equal access to STEM opportunities

‘Different people think differently and that’s so important for innovation,’ Taylor Walters says

A vehicle is totalled after a driver crashed into the side of a tow truck outside Central Island Towing. (Cole Schisler photo)
Car totalled after colliding with the back of a tow truck in Ladysmith

Nobody was injured, but repairs on the tow truck are expected to cost thousands of dollars

Chemainus Art Group creates mural mosaic to celebrate a joyful spring. (Photo submitted)
Art group members celebrate a joyful spring in Chemainus

Each of 33 squares pushed together into one mural

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders attended to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

RCMP on scene yesterday at the altercation at the trailer park. (Submitted photo)
Violent altercation at Port Hardy trailer park sends one to hospital

Police say man confronted another over airsoft shooting, then was attacked with a weapon

John Albert Buchanan was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar. Pictured here, Buchanan walking to the court in Nanaimo last year. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Six years including time served for Nanaimo man in bludgeoning death

John Albert Buchanan sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo for death of Richard Sitar

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

Most Read