The Arbor Company Senior Living Blog

Senior Living LIVE: Music and Memory

May 3, 2018 8:01:00 AM / Chris Harper Chris Harper


episode 18 image 2-min (1)In this episode of Senior Living LIVE, we spoke to Paul Kelley, who talked to us about the importance of music in our lives and the senior living communities he visits. From drum circles to concerts, individual playlists and ambient music, he sees the part that music plays in making resident's lives happier. Watch below or read the transcript of our conversation.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments, and we will be sure to answer them.

Would you like to be part of the conversation LIVE? Click here and we'll send you a special message in Facebook Messenger when we go live. 

And, if you'd like to watch past episodes of our live broadcast, you can find them here.

senior living live episode 18-min (1)Video Transcript

Chris: Well, hello, and welcome to Senior Living Live. This is our preshow, and today we're talking about music in senior living. Hey everybody, I'm Chris, and I'm joined today with our guest, Paul Kelley. How are you doing today, Paul?

Paul: Good morning. I'm doing great.

Chris: Good. So this is Paul's first time on the show, and he's just getting used to things with us. We're still getting used to things, working through our technology and everything. And as you can see on the screen, we're starting in about two minutes. But before that, I wanted to tell you about a couple of important things. So next week, as you know, we do our shows every Friday at 11 a.m. Eastern. Well, next week, we're not going to do a show. That would be May...what is next Friday?

Paul: 4th, I think.

Chris: May 4th, that's right. Yeah. So May 4th, no show. You can come here and you can watch past shows, but there will not be a live show next Friday, May 4th. And that is because we're preparing for a special presentation show the following week, and we'll get some more information out to you if you follow us, which you can do at...the easiest thing to do is just to type the word "Show" in the comments right below this video, and we'll send you a Facebook message. But pay attention to the Arbor Company's Facebook page. You can look at us up on YouTube, it's there as well, and hopefully in the next week we'll have the new website up and running where you can find this information. But what we are doing, this is our special announcement for Thursday, May 10th, and it's going to be in the evening. We don't have an actual show time set. But we've got a community in the Atlanta area named the Arbor at BridgeMill.

And you may have recognized Brooke, who's been on the show before, she's from that community, so she's joined us here in the seat. And so that community, it's been open for a few months and they're actually having their grand opening celebration. So we're going to be at the grand opening celebration and celebrating with them and interviewing different people who were involved in the creation of that community, giving you some behind the scenes tours of the community, some really fun stuff we're going to be doing there. That's Thursday, May 10th. So be on the lookout for that. And then we'll do our regular scheduled show on Friday, May 11th. So, again, this is Senior Living Live. We're talking all about music in senior living today. We will be back in just a few moments with the start of our show.

Music in senior living, why in the world is it important? I mean, there's music in your life, right? But in other places, why do we have music in senior living communities? So that's what we're going to be talking about today. Hey, everybody. My name is Chris, and this is Senior Living Live. This is a show that's all about senior living. It's all about answering the questions, pulling back the curtains, so to speak, on all the topics related to senior living so that you can learn a little bit more about it and get your questions answered, and ultimately, live the life that you want to live. That is our mission. Now I'm joined today by my esteemed colleague, Paul Kelley. How are you doing today, Paul?

Paul: Good morning. I'm great.

Chris: Good morning. Good. Thank you for joining us today.

Paul: My pleasure.

Chris: Paul has been chomping at the bit to join this show since we started. But, no, we are very excited to have Paul with us today. Before we get into that topic a little bit, I do want to talk about a couple things I talked about in our preshow. Now we normally go live with a new episode of Senior Living Live. This is the 18th show, by the way.

Paul: That's amazing.

Chris: We've been doing this for 18 weeks...

Paul: Congratulations.

Chris: ...straight up until next week because we're not doing a show next week on May 4th. Thank you. Friday, May 4th. I don't have a calendar in front of me, and I can't remember it. So we normally go live on Fridays at 11 a.m. Eastern, but we're not doing that on Friday, May 4th. So if you come looking for us, it's not a problem with your computer, it's just we're not here. That's because we're preparing for a special show that we are going to do on Thursday, May 10th, and it's at a brand new community that recently opened. We're going to be celebrating their grand opening with them. There's a red carpet. There's going to be ball gowns, and tuxedos, and all of that stuff. And I'm going to be joined by Michelle Hamilton who was with us last week, and she's going to be co-hosting the show with me. We've got some special guests coming in. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Paul: Great.

Chris: It's should be good. You're going to watch?

Paul: I sure will.

Chris: You're going to tune in? All right. We might commandeer you to come and run a camera or something. So if you're available. So, Paul, thank you for joining the show today.

Paul: My pleasure.

Chris: I've been looking forward to having you on here. Tell us a little bit about what it is that you do at the Arbor Company?

Paul: I'm part of the operations team here at the Arbor corporate office in Atlanta, and my direct responsibility is to support the communities that Arbor has in its portfolio. And I spend most of my time out in the community supporting the teams and helping them...

Chris: Travelling around.

Paul: ...take good care of our residents.

Chris: Okay. Yeah. Taking good care of your residents. That is a huge part of everything that we do. And so tell me a little bit how you got into taking care of residents and how you got into your career doing this?

Paul: Yeah. It's actually an interesting story. I set forth after high school to embark on a career in music as a singer and a church organist and a choral conductor and went through undergrad and grad school. And after grad school, I answered an ad in a local paper for a nursing home that was looking for someone to come and play music for the residents. And the administrator of that nursing home way, way back many years ago, understood the importance of music with seniors and sought to hire someone with a background in music to help support the management team there. And from that point on, I realized that that was a great career for me working in senior living. I've been in senior living ever since, but still feel the importance of music in what we do every day.

Chris: That's great. So I didn't realize that. I mean, I knew that you had been doing senior living for long time, I knew that you're a musician, but I did not realize that the two of those came together in a very special way.

Paul: And what was interesting was this was kind of before a lot of people had understood the importance of music. And I spent a lot of time working with frail dementia residents and getting them to kind of respond to me through favorite songs that they'd like to hear and realized that, "Gosh, someone can't tell me my name but they can sing the words to a song they remember," and it was pretty neat.

Chris: Well, yeah, music, I think, is so important in everyone's life. I mean, it's important in your life. It's important in my life in different ways. And in my mind music is kind of like food, like, right? It's something that everyone can appreciate in different ways and kind of have their own tastes and all that type of thing. So why do you think music is important to someone who is in senior living or maybe considering a move to senior living?

Paul: Well, I think there's a couple of reasons. First of all, as you said, it's part of our life. I mean, many of us now can kind of recall a soundtrack in our life. We know what songs we like to listen to if you're going for a run or going to the gym, or what type of music you want to play if you're sitting down to dinner. And that doesn't change for our seniors. I mean, they still have those same soundtracks in their head. And so by specifically focusing on bringing music into a senior's life, it helps them in a number of ways. It helps them with some psychological benefits, some physical health benefits, and it actually has been shown to improve memory in some of our folks with memory impairment. So I think we learned that, you know, something that's very simple to execute, putting on some music and allowing people to listen to it has a lot of very positive benefits.

Chris: Yeah. It seems like it does. I mean, I know it enhances my mood, right? And so I would assume that it does for everyone.

Paul: And I mean, you think about, you know, a lively piece of music might make you feel a little more energetic during the day or something calm and relaxing may help you fall asleep, or sometimes it will bring back memories. I mean, we all have those songs in our head that when you hear it on the radio you know exactly where you were and exactly what you're doing at that time when you heard that song for the first time. And that memory that's kind of so far back in our minds serves to come to the forefront when we hear that song.

Chris: Yeah. You know, I've heard that somewhere, and I don't if it was in training here or just reading that music, like tonal memory is a very strong memory trigger as is like smells, right? So you've seen that in the communities?

Paul: Yeah. And, you know, I think one of the most interesting things is that it's individual and we always know, I always work with our teams on how to provide individual service for our residents. I mean, every senior is not the same. We want to make sure that we're providing the services and the care that they need. And so developing someone's individual soundtrack for them through a music and memory program or just with entertainment or whatever we're doing in the community is a really good way to show that nod to individualization of care that we provide.

Chris: Yeah. I think the individualization is a big piece of that, and we're going to get into that in a little bit when we talk about some of the programs that we have. Before we do that, I want to cut to...we've got a couple of comments coming in from Facebook. We told you Lemoine will be joining. That's my grandmother. She says, "Good to you see." So good to see you too. And we've got Martine who is joining. She's from the one of the Arbor communities. She says, "Hi, Paul."

Paul: Hey, Martine.

Chris: Wave to Martine. And then Michelle says that, "Arbor Terrace Shrewsbury loves live music." So up at Arbor Terrace Shrewsbury in New Jersey. glad to hear that you guys love the live music too. And I think live music is a big component of that. We get a lot of musicians coming in and people playing... Do you play music when you go the communities?

Paul: I try to. I'm usually somewhere between a plane and a rental car most of the time. But actually in setting aside my goals for next year that, you know, we all kind of sit down and figure what is something I want to focus on for next year? I've kind of made a commitment that once a month I'll go out to a community and play the piano and sing. And then what I'd like to do is in the fall sometime next year, schedule an organ concert up in Marietta for all of our residents that are in Marietta area that could bring a bus of folks there and so...

Chris: Oh, that will be fun.

Paul: ...try to focus on that because it's enjoyable for me. But it also brings a lot of great joy to the residents as well.

Chris: Yeah. That's great. And you are a free entertainer.

Paul: I'm a free entertainer. Right.

Chris: Not all the time. But, great. So, you know, specifically, so we kind of talked about the benefits of music in the communities. And, by the way, if you're watching we would love to hear your comments, just, you know, type them in right below the video that you're watching and let us know, you know, experiences that you've had with music in senior living or, you know, even like what is your favorite song. Let me ask you, what's your favorite song right now? What are you listening to?

Paul: You see, that's hard to tell because I have such a wide variety of stuff.

Chris: I'll tell you, I will get on a song and listen to it over and over until I deplete it, like for weeks, and that's just the one song.

Paul: What's your favorite song right now?

Chris: Right now it's this song...what is it called? I don't know "A 100 billion times," or something. It's a church song, but it's from this group in Australia I'm kind of into. But you were mentioning like the memory and how music can change your mood.

Paul: Yes.

Chris: And whenever I hear that, I think of the "Ghostbusters" theme from...what's his name? Ray something from the '80s. And that song, like if I'm working out, or if I'm playing with the kids or whatever, you know, you're riding the treadmill or something, that song comes on you go a little bit faster. You know, it kind of picks you up. And then there are other songs that I've got a playlist on my phone that I listen to if I'm on an airplane or if I'm in a hotel and I just can't sleep or I'm trying to fall asleep.

Paul: Do you have your playlist customized based on what you're doing? Like you have an airplane playlist and a workout playlist?

Chris: I don't necessarily call them that, but I do. I don't actually listen to music when I work out. I'm usually watch TV or something mindless like that. But I do kind of have them organized. Do you do that as well?

Paul: I do. And I think one thing that's interesting is with the advancement of technology, we've come into this individualized music kind of experience with ourselves. I mean, now we have iPods and headphones and phones that I can walk down the street, you know, any day and have my own individual soundtrack for Paul going on and I bump into Chris and you have your headphones on with your own individual soundtrack and it's kind of like, you know, in a movie where you've got music going on in the background but everybody has got their own experience which I think is pretty cool.

Chris: Well, gone are the days where you're like...I don't know if you ever did this where you would pull up at a stop light, you know, and someone's windows are down, or even if the windows are up, and you see them singing along. And then I would like go through all the different radio stations to try to figure out what stations they're on. And you can't do that anymore because everyone is listening to who knows what. So that's kind of funny. So we've talked about music as in general and the benefits of that. How do we use it in our senior living communities?

Paul: We have several programs that I've seen really have great impact. We have a program called Namaste program which is typically in our dementia neighborhoods, and it's kind of a quiet place. A time to relax. We use aromatherapy and soft relaxing music, comfortable blankets and pillows. And it's really a great way for reducing some anxiety possibly or frustration that some our residents may have. We also...

Chris: And when you say residents, that's particularly residents with dementia, memory loss issues. Okay.

Paul: Right. And then in our other...I mean it's used in a variety of ways. I mean, we use it for entertainment purposes. So we have a happy hour or we'll have entertainment for dinners. Or sometimes just concerts. Local school choirs and bands and orchestras will come in and play for the residents and it stirs up a lot of wonderful memories for them. We also have...many of our communities do the music and memory program where an individual works with someone who customizes that soundtrack for them. And so they usually a set of headphones and an iPod and there may be 10 or 15 songs, you know, for some of our residents maybe it's Frank Sinatra or something like that. But it just serves to kind of enhance your life along the way. I saw something interesting down at our San Jose community not too long ago. There was someone in there leading a drum circle.

So they had like, I don't know, 10 or 15 different size drums and this was one of our memory care communities and residents that weren't really sure how to play the drum or what to do, as soon as their neighbor started doing it, they kind of picked up on it, and before, you know, three or four minutes was out, he had everything kind of drumming in harmony and you could feel the excitement building and, more importantly, you could just see the expression of happiness on the resident's face. I mean, someone who's maybe had a fair amount of dementia that couldn't really express themselves in other ways, was able to express their joy through that experience with drumming in the drum circle. So it's really a great experience.

Chris: It sounds like a great experience. I've never experienced one of those drum circles, but I've heard about it, seen the videos, and things. But it sounds like it's a fun time.

Paul: It really is. It really is.

Chris: And we actually have a company meeting coming up in a few months or in a few weeks.

Paul: And we're doing a drum circle.

Chris: Doing a drum circle. So that should be fun. I'm going to try to make it over for that. We've got other types of... Well, before I get to that, I actually just saw a comment pop up. Martine says, "We've got a resident in Evergreen that does not speak but will sing to children and some team members she loves. It's so sweet to watch." She says, "If you see her in action, it's so powerful."

Paul: Yeah. And that's a really a great comment from Martine where she's seen that connection in how music is kind of bringing that resident's life out of her spirit. You know, she's just coming forth with it. You know, it's really a touching thing to see.

Chris: Yeah. And I know. You know, we've talked a lot about memory care, but there's music for everybody, right? Independent living, assisted living too, I know I've seen situations where residents who are musicians like yourself will do concerts for their peers, and so that's a lot of fun. So if you're, you know, a musician that can be a fun thing to do. We have the traveling musicians come in. Usually once a week, there's some type of live music happening in the community, right?

Paul: And, you know, especially around the holidays, we get a lot of people coming to volunteer at our communities, you know, church choirs and school choirs and I always say it's a great place to try out your program before you perform it for public. You know, come and try it out on us and we'll enjoy it.

Chris: Yeah. Our residents will be very forgiving.

Paul: That's right.

Chris: They're happy to see the cute kids.

Paul: Yeah. And interesting you mentioned about residents playing music. When I was an executive director many years ago, I had a resident, Ben, that played the trumpet. And he would get up every morning and I could hear him from my office practicing his trumpet. And every day he would walk all the way over to the memory care neighborhood and play the trumpet for the residents and usually play patriotic music or something like that. And that was his way to give back, you know, in volunteer service to others by playing music for other residents that lived in that community. So it becomes a great avenue for people to communicate with others as well.

Chris: Yeah. I think one of the coolest things that I have seen music or otherwise in of our communities is this program that we did at a community in the Atlanta area with an organization called the George Center. And they did what they called an Inter-generational Rock Band. And so they gave instruments to residents and also to children. And I think they were elementary aged children. And the kids would come once a week and they would do rehearsals and they actually did a concert at the end of it and different people were know, the teacher was playing the guitar and the kids would play bells and the residents would play drums and things. And they had these whole thing. And they would sing like Katy Perry songs and, you know, so like more and more pop music. But it was fun and the residents loved it and the kids loved it and it was...

Paul: And it bridged the generation...

Chris: Absolutely.

Paul: ...between the kids and the seniors.

Chris: And I think that's what's so important with all of this. You know, music, like food, is one of those things that brings people together a lot of times.

Paul: It sure does.

Chris: So what else do we have out there? I know we've talked...we've got these It's Never 2 Late computers. Tell me about those.

Paul: The Never 2 Late computer is a great senior friendly...well, it's a computer but it's preloaded with all sorts of interesting programs that seniors would enjoy. So you'd have everything from travel logs to all sorts of interesting countries, to the ability to do your customized playlist for your resident group. So maybe you're having an exercise class with your residents and you go into iN2L and pick up some, if you want, 1940s bebop music or something and you searched that and it will put together a whole playlist for you very quickly. And it becomes a great tool for our Arbor teams to have great success with what they're doing in leading some of the programs and activities for our residents.

Chris: And I know. I've seen them do like name that tune with it before.

Paul: Do music bingo and all sorts of great things.

Chris: Yeah, it's really fun stuff with It's Never 2 Late. And in some communities even name it. Have you heard of this where they have like they're calling Smarty Marty or something like for computer? We'll have to bring one in or do a show with a clip so that we can show you all at home. But this computer, it's like a cart and it's got a computer mounted on it and a little...the monitor. It does have like a little personality to it because the monitor moves up and down and all around. And they can wheel it to different places in the community and do all sorts of fun stuff.

Paul: And you can actually set up individual like pages for each resident. So a family could send the Arbor community team, "Here's mom's five favorite songs." We can load them on to iN2L and then when that resident has some downtime they can go in and find their page and they can see photos of family and all sorts of things that have been pre-loaded for their use.

Chris: Yeah. That's fantastic. And that's for, you know, senior living at any level. We've got It's Never 2 Late computers in independent living, assisted living, memory care, all of them. Let's talk for a second about...we alluded to this a little bit earlier, but music and memory.

Paul: Yes.

Chris: So that's a program that we have in several of our memory care communities. How does that work?

Paul: Well this was...what I mentioned earlier, it's taking a playlist, if you will, but it's customized to the specific residents. So if I was taking your playlist, I might have some Katy Perry or something else on it, maybe some Christian rock or whatever, but for one of our seniors that's maybe 85 or 90, it may be a collection or big-band music or, you know, Tommy Dorsey, or Frank Sinatra or something like that. And what it serves do is just kind of stimulate their mind. And studies have shown that by listening to music from your past, it kind of digs way back into the mind and then it kind of opens up and stimulates some of those memories that are back there. I mean, you don't think about anything in your past. You hear a song and suddenly you remember all the specifics of what happened when you heard that song. So it's the same type of process that works.

Chris: It kind of helps. And I think it helps to calm people down, right?

Paul: It does.

Chris: That's great.

Paul: You know, sometimes our residents feel alone and they, you know, haven't yet connected to other folks. And so it's comforting to hear familiar music and makes us feel better.

Chris: It does. It does. And from a dementia standpoint, I know a few weeks ago, Susan Robbins, joined us again on the show. And we talked about the different stages of dementia. And what she told us was that I think rhythm is one of the keep that the longest among other things. So, you know, you may lose the ability to speak and express yourself but you can still express yourself through rhythm, right?

Paul: And, you know, we've seen where staff or families kind of do rhythm with our very advanced dementia residents, and they can still replicate some basic rhythm sometimes. And it just gives you that sense that, you know, someone is communicating back with you, which is really nice.

Chris: Yeah. All right. Finally, you know, just before we go, how can families use music when they visit a family member in senior living?

Paul: Yeah. That's a great question. You know, a lot of times I hear from families. You know, we've got mom and dad living in a senior living community. Maybe there's a little bit of memory issue and they come for a visit and they don't know what to do. You know, what do we do with mom when she's there? You know, she gets her food, she gets her housekeeping, she gets her entertainment. So what do we do as a family especially with some of the residents that can't get out as much anymore? And we found that, you know, recommending something around music is a great idea.

So come and getting mom taking her out to a concert that she might like or taking her out to a church where they have a music program she might like, or bringing in music and listening and saying, "Hey, do you remember when we sang this as a kid or the family got together and we did this at church or whatever?" So it really just, you know, fosters that same type of concept of, you know, making people feel good. It's like, you know, when you go home and mom is cooking a big dinner and you walk in and you smell the turkey cooking and you're like, "I just feel good." Well, we feel the same way with music as well.

Chris: So just figure out what mom likes and bring it into the situation.

Paul: Bring some music or go to a concert or go to a performance somewhere or even just sitting in the living room listening to it together. But connecting with it, talking about it. You know, what do you remember with that song? Asking those questions and then, you know, kind of spurs that memory to come back to life.

Chris: Is it helpful to ask questions like what was your favorite song when you were teenager or, you know, what type of music did you listen to?

Paul; I mean, everybody has got their favorite type of music. And, you know, it's not necessarily the same for everybody. I mean, if somebody in their 90s may like Frank Sinatra, someone in their 90s may love the Beatles, you know, which is a big jump away, but asking what really made them happy when they were younger is a great idea.

Chris: Well, yeah. And, you know, we are into that. I would say most of our residents and, you know, when we play the music in the background in our communities a lot of times it is that kind of Frank Sinatra rat pack kind of thing which is 1960s and Beatles were in the '60s. And so, you know, it won't be long before '70s hair music is coming out...

Paul: It's coming.

Chris: ...and it's going to be fun. It's going to be fun.

Paul: Metallic rap is all in the future for senior living.

Chris: Yeah, it's in the future. So we'll just change the channel on that radio and keep it going. So, any final thoughts about music today? I've taken up enough of your time probably.

Paul: I think just enjoy it. You know, just take a stab at it, put some music on, and see what happens. I mean, residents love to dance. They love to move, just have fun with it.

Chris: Well, we will have fun with it. We need some music that, you know, licensing, you can't really like put music in these shows. But we need some...maybe we'll get you to come and play sometime, maybe like a little Casio or something that sits on the table and have fun with that.

Paul: I can play the show off the air.

Chris: You know, if we do that concert that you want to do, maybe we can live stream that for people to see from all around.

Paul: That's great.

Chris: Good. Well, thank you for joining us live today here on Senior Living Live. As a reminder, we go live every Friday at 11 a.m. Eastern time. And if you want to be reminded of that in Facebook Messenger, just type the word "Show," S-H-O-W, right into the comments right below this video. And when you do that, that's if you're on Facebook, but when you do that, we will send you a message through Facebook Messenger whenever we go live so you know. Now all that said, we've got a little bit of a schedule change that I mentioned earlier. Remember next week, May 4th, I remembered it, because, you know it's Star Wars Day.

Paul: Is it really?

Chris: May the 4th be with you, see? But people do celebrate that as Star Wars Day, maybe I'll dress up as a...maybe that's what I'm going to be doing when...since I'm not here, I'm going to be dressed up as Jedi or a storm trooper or something. So on May the 4th, we will not be having a live Senior Living Live show. You're welcome to go to and watch all of our past episodes of course, but we will not be live because we're going to be preparing for a special edition live show that we've got scheduled for Thursday, May 10th. That's going to be Thursday, May 10th from one of our communities. Look for details on our Facebook page as we get closer to that. It is going to be a lot of fun. With that, thank you for joining, and we will see you next time. Bye-bye.

Paul: Bye.

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Topics: Senior Living LIVE

Chris Harper

Chris Harper

As the vice president of communications for The Arbor Company, Chris is responsible for digital marketing, public relations, technology and design.

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