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A Canadian Case Study of Intergenerational Music Therapy

Intergenerational Jamboree: A Canadian Case Study of Intergenerational Music Therapy

by Kate Dupuis, Ph.D., C.Psych. and Emma Bender, B. A. Hons.

The use of person-centered, group-based arts activities can be extremely beneficial for older adults, leading to improvements in cognitive, physical, social, and emotional health and well-being (Ford et al., 2018; Greaves & Farbus, 2006; Vogelpoel & Jarrold, 2014). The arts may be particularly effective for addressing the social isolation commonly experienced by this age group; participating in the arts with others can allow individuals to establish social connections and create a sense of belonging within the group (Moody & Phinney, 2012; Greaves & Farbus, 2006; Vogelpoel & Jarrold, 2014). Social interaction is even more relevant for older adults than ever before, as pre-existing loneliness and social isolation (Brimelow & Wollin, 2017) may have been exacerbated in recent months (Tyrrell & Williams, 2020) due to the COVID-19 pandemic and governmental/public health recommendations around social distancing and staying home to stay safe.

Music is one arts domain that has been referred to as a “universal language”; music has been found in every culture and can help create connections without words (Bainbridge et al., 2020; Mehr et al., 2019). Music is also a widely accessible and low (or no) cost way of being creative, either alone or in a group, in-person or online, and can be adapted to accommodate a wide range of physical and cognitive capabilities (Detmer et al., 2019). Due to its inherent accessibility and universality, music is an optimal choice to help bridge gaps between generations (David et al., 2018).

Intergenerational music making opportunities that bring together participants from different age groups help to foster social bonding, break down ageist stereotypes, and overcome gaps between generations (David et al., 2018). Intergenerational connections may be created through reminiscence, as, through song and conversation, older adults may be prompted to think back to their own childhoods and/or to raising their children and grandchildren (e.g., singing lullabies to their daughter). Opportunities for reminiscence through intergenerational interventions have been shown to improve the quality of life and social well-being of older adults (Desouza, 2007; Gaggioli et al., 2014). Due to geographical distance and the fact that people are having children later in life (Statistics Canada, 2018), many young children are now growing up without grandparents close by with whom they can interact on a regular basis (Belgrave, 2011; Teater, 2016). Intergenerational music making can provide children and older adults the opportunity to create enriching “adoptive grandparent/grandchild” bonds.

Building on an understanding of the potential benefits of music, and the demonstrated power of intergenerational programming for all ages involved, a Canadian team of researchers and clinicians came together in 2018 to evaluate an intergenerational music therapy intervention offered in a long-term care home. The director of recreation and the music therapist at the home had together developed the “Intergenerational Jamboree” (“Jamboree”) after recognizing that residents were lacking accessible ways to express emotions and build social and emotional connections. Drawing on their knowledge of the benefits of the arts for older adults, the pair collaborated to create the 12-week intervention that includes residents, care providers, and children under the age of four from the surrounding community and their parent/guardian. Participants gather weekly for one hour during which the music therapist leads the group in singing songs and using instruments and props (e.g. drums, scarves), and gently facilitates interaction between the children, their accompanying adults, and residents. Additional care providers (e.g., recreation aides) observe, support, and participate in the program.

With funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the team was able to formally evaluate one 12-week offering of the Jamboree intervention. Observation of the sessions demonstrated that the residents were very involved in music making, and engaged with the children and accompanying adults throughout.

The residents displayed many positive emotions and behaviours during the sessions, including smiling, eye contact, laughing, and interacting directly with the children and their parents/guardians. Residents created strong, nurturing relationships with the children, talking to them, giving them hugs, holding hands, and engaging playfully with them. Residents, most of whom were living with dementia, would anticipate the children’s arrival and would talk with the staff about the Jamboree throughout the day, even once the session had ended and the children had returned home. One resident living with dementia explained to the music therapist after the session, “what you discover is they’re not just little kids. You discover that they’re little people – they like this and they like that. It’s sort of exciting!”. In interviews, many of the adults who accompanied children to the program shared that the children, as well as they themselves, had developed meaningful relationships with the residents. One accompanying adult described that the child in her care would “just about jump out of her car seat if she wasn’t held in” as they approached the driveway of the LTC home: “I would say a couple of weeks in she was more social with them and we would say their names at home or in the car. You know, "do you want to go see Grandma [resident’s name]?" and her eyes would light up.” Several of the adults said they wanted to continue developing these relationships outside of the Jamboree.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to even fewer opportunities for social contact among older adults (Berg-Weger & Morley, 2020; Tyrrell & Williams, 2020), with governmental guidelines around restricting in-person interaction (including visitors to long-term care). Many older adults have experienced the impact of the loss of meaningful contact with family and friends as well as other social support networks, ways to connect with health and social service staff, and access to other resources and engagement opportunities (Berg-Weger & Morley, 2020; Tyrrell & Williams, 2020). These measures and consequential losses put older adults at acute risk of loneliness, a risk factor for subsequent declines in physical and mental health (Tyrrell & Williams, 2020). T

herefore, there is an even more critical need for interventions, such as the Jamboree, that support the social connectedness and quality of life of older adults. In particular, given the impending second wave of the pandemic, it is imperative that we use innovative methods to provide online/virtual intergenerational connections for at-risk older adults. These will ensure that they continue communicating with other generations at a distance, while remaining safely in their own living environments.


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