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

Previously, Aldergrove Sea Monkeys swimmers trained while passing one another in the same lane at the ACUCC pool. (Aldergrove Star files)
Aldergrove ‘micromonkeys’ ready to hit the pool

Sea Monkey’s swim club has opened registration for age four and up for lessons May 3 to June 2

Bike events like the 2018 Valley Granfondo in Fort Langley drew thousands of cyclists. (Langley Advance Times files)
Our View: Cycling boom will have long-term implications for Canada

All the people who took to two wheels in the last year will change our politics

Twilight Drive-In in Aldergrove (Aldergrove Star files)
Godzilla, King Kong, and the Virgin Mary take over Twilight Drive-In

Horror movie, The Unholy, will play all next week after final showing of Godzilla VS. Kong

The Langley School District issues COVID-19 notifications when cases are discovered at local public school. Fraser Health handles contact tracing and all medical aspects for all local schools. (Langley Schools)
Positive COVID test at RE Mountain Secondary

10 schools in the Langley District have had exposures

John Campbell, with the Langley Rotary Club, got to check out the recently installed cold frames with Douglas Park Community School teacher Lorraine Goulet. (John Campbell/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Rotary donation allows Langley students to get growing

Douglas Park Community School has new cold frames for its courtyard garden

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

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

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read