Music Therapy Sparks Memories and Much More

(Courtesy of Dubois County Herald)

Jasper, June 1, 2018:   A group of 18 Northwood Retirement Community residents were in a half circle Thursday afternoon, making beautiful music together.

They tapped their feet, clapped their hands and sang “Don’t Fence Me In” with music therapist Rafaela Schaick. A few sang some of the verses, but they all chimed in for the chorus that they remember well.

Schaick, 35, is a native of Brazil and lives in Jasper. A certified music therapist, she started the therapy program at Northwood in January.

“The goal is to help maintain cognitive and physical functions,” Schaick said. “There is lots of movement. (The session) helps with socialization and interaction, reminiscing and memory.”

Schaick plays guitar, violin, ukulele and some piano. She works with “Music Together,” a program for infants and children and their parents, and is a violin teacher in Strings Inc. She noticed that students use their violin training to help with their dexterity. “I wanted to expand and explore music for therapeutic goals,” she said.

With that idea in mind, Schaick completed the music therapy program at the University of Kentucky and became certified in music therapy in 2016.

Schaick conducts a session each month for residents in Northwood’s four units: skilled nursing, memory care, assisted living and late dementia. That brings Schaick to Northwood once a week for a session.

“I adapt my plan according to the cognitive and physical ability of the group,” she said, adding that she uses the music group members grew up with and likes encouraging more memories.

In the sessions, residents are encouraged to not only sing, but to move around. While playing a recording of “Garden In the Rain,” another song the residents know, Schaick got the residents to stretch in their seats, lifting their arms and moving their legs around.

“C’mon Vera,” Schaick said, looking at Vera Eckert, “just a little bit.”

Eckert raised her arms some.

“There you go,” Schaick encouraged. Eckert and the others also twisted their torsos and shuffled their feet.

Vera Eckert sang along to “Don’t Fence Me In” while Schaick played the guitar Thursday. “I really enjoyed her,” Eckert said of the session.

“Let’s do a little shoulder action,” Schaick said, “just like you’re dancing.” The group complied, lifting their shoulders up and down until the music ended. “Isn’t that the best way to warm up, with dancing?”

And it was just the start of activity. Schaick would encourage more movement later by giving each resident an instrument — a tambourine, a set of sticks, or a maraca — to play while Schaick played the guitar and they all sang “Blue Skies.” The jam session was stepped up by Schaick having the residents raise their instruments in the air and wave them side to side.

“It’s embracing the whole self,” Schaick said later. “This is not just about the songs. This is about the things they used to do, and encouraging them to reminisce and dance and move and share with each other.”

So residents use their minds as well as their bodies as part of the session.

“So when you think of spring, what do you think of?” Schaick asked the group Thursday. Many said gardening. Another said baseball. Soon, lots of answers and memories were shared — swimming in Patoka Lake, finding mushrooms, cooking outside, fishing, bicycling, riding ponies, growing cucumbers.

Schaick used those answers to make new verses for the song “Summertime,” naming the song “Springtime” instead. The residents smiled as she sang the new lines and ultimately joined in on the chorus line: “We’re happy dear friends. It’s spring time.”

Schaick has individual clients through her employer, Personal Counseling Services of Clarksville. And while she was in college, she did an internship at a retirement facility in Florida. She mentioned to her friend, Nicole Lampert, about her desire to do a similar program with a local facility.

Lampert, who works at the Dubois County Community Foundation, encouraged Schaick to pursue that idea and helped her to get a grant through the foundation to do the program at Northwood, the only nonprofit nursing home in Jasper.

“The feedback has been wonderful,” Schaick said. “Everything has been very positive.”

Schaick said the goal of the sessions is to use music to achieve therapeutic goals like socialization, increase movement and help with cognitive abilities.

But she is prepared for negative feelings and memories that could come out in a session.

“Sometimes, memories can be negative,” she said. “It has not happened yet. But each time, I assess the room and adapt, so that we can address all the emotions in the room.”

Thursday’s 45-minute session ended with residents doing a chair version of the Bunny Hop dance with Schaick and then a last singalong of “Keep on the Sunny Side.” A popular boogie woogie tune played as Schaick packed up, and the residents hung out to listen, talk and dance in their seats.

Schaick said that she hopes that the program will eventually expand.

“I would like to get into other areas,” she said, “such as to residents who don’t get out of their rooms or to hospice care. I would also love to provide this type of service to other facilities.”