Jul 7, 2016 • University Living in Ann Arbor • By: Tanum Ollila
Across cultures and generations, music is used to soothe and comfort, to communicate and educate, and to inspire and encourage the spirit. Music accompanies us throughout life, from the lullabies we hum to children to the spiritual hymns we sing at funerals; it provides us with a soundtrack that spans the ages.
Skye Hookham, MT-BC, is the activities director at University Living at Ann Arbor and uses music to engage elders in creative, unique and meaningful experiences. Her weekly music group, held in the cultural center, fills the community with song and brings people together in the spirit of collaboration and joy. Music is a unique form of communication that allows Hookham to reach beyond a fading memory to the person inside who still appreciates and is inspired by the joy found in a simple song or melody.
“The music that I focus on is from the 1930s through the 1960s, which is the music of their youth. It’s amazing that my residents can remember the words to all of the songs that I sing. It’s like it all just comes back to them in the moment,” says Hookham, who has been playing music and singing since she was very young.
Hookham attended Western Michigan University’s School of Music and Dance and received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy. She recently finished her internship and received her board certification for music therapy. One of her goals is to establish a true music therapy program at Provision Living.
University Living’s weekly music group uses rhythm to get residents engaged while singing or playing instruments. “I always encourage movement,” explains Hookham. “We stretch and move our bodies to increase blood flow and get our hearts pumping. We also incorporate percussion instruments like maracas, tambourines and drums so that residents can fully participate in the music-making. I believe that people should never stop learning and broadening their horizons so I also bring in instruments from other cultures. I recently brought in an West African drum called a djembe and they loved learning about its history.”
Hookham’s passion for working with elders began when she learned that music is not only fun and enjoyable, but also therapeutic. “In many senior living communities, the most common form of pain management is through medication,” stresses Hookham, “Music, however, is a different way of managing pain. It also increases relaxation and reduces anxiety, stress and agitation. For instance, if a senior is agitated and they hear a favorite song that makes them happy, they can start to feel happy in that moment.”
According to Hookham, music also reduces depression and encourages socialization. “I’ve seen very solitary and introverted residents become more active through our music group. We incorporate solos as a way to encourage them and increase self-esteem. Songwriting is also something that we do that promotes emotional expression and to help open up their imaginations.”
One of the most powerful benefits of music, however, is the way it enhances family connections and increases quality of life. Introducing music into the environment can help in situations where an elder may be bedridden, or non-verbal, and their loved ones seem to be at a loss when it comes to communication.
“Many times when a person is nearing the end of their journey here on Earth, they tend to lose their ability to communicate verbally, but through music we can create a positive memory for their loved ones,” reveals Hookham while recalling a moment shared with a family while completing her internship with hospice care.
“During the mother’s final days she became non-verbal and no one really knew what to do or how to communicate with her, so they were all silent, playing on their smart phones and not communicating as a family,” she says. “So I brought in my guitar and we sang Amazing Grace and the daughter held her mother’s hand and the mother squeezed back, letting her know that she was there and she knew that they were there. It was a very powerful moment and music facilitated that memory for their family.”
Hookham’s weekly music group occurs every Thursday at 4:00 p.m. in the cultural center at University Senior Living in Ann Arbor, MI.
If your family is exploring assisted living or memory care options, the experts at University Senior Living can help. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive wellness program or to schedule your visit today: (734) 669-3030.
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