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

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

CVRD offices on Ingram Street will remain closed for another 14 weeks after flooding last month. (File photo)
CVRD headquarters closed for another three and a half months

Building significantly damaged during water leak

Victoria police are asking for help locating high-risk missing man Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria April 12. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Police searching for Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria

Whittaker believed to be driving 1994 red Volkswagen Golf

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

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

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five western Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate legal fishing victory

Court ruling confirms Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights in case dating back to 2003

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Ladysmith-area Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations

Most Read