EDITOR’S NOTE: The Watertown Area Community Foundation Watertown Relief Fund has now awarded more than $38,000 in grants to help nonprofits and charitable groups increase/maintain their services during COVID-19. Though the following grant wasn’t large in dollars, only $1,000, its impact is great! In addition, though this story focuses on the music therapy component of the grant, the technology provided also helps with connecting Estelline Care Center residents to relatives.
“Harry” has been king of the dance floor for 50-plus years. That will never change even though the dance floor and the way he dances has.
“Harry” and the other 59 or so residents at Estelline Care Center have been enjoying music therapy, whether in a large group or one-on-one, for the past four years with Board Certified Music Therapist Kristina Gindo. Thanks to a grant from the Watertown Area Community Foundation Watertown Relief Fund, “Harry’s” and other residents’ love for dance and music is still inspired even amidst COVID-19.
When Kristina couldn’t provide the music therapy in person due to COVID-19, we tried to use the technology we had, even our phones, to bring her back to the residents, explained Vicki Strait, the center’s office manager. That didn’t work very well, so the center applied for a grant that would provide an iPad Pro and Bluetooth speaker to better facilitate the program. The new speakers are a blessing due to some residents’ hearing issues.
With the new technology and Gindo’s help, Care Center staff has brought Gindo to the large group via the big screen. Though she’s not there in person, it’s the next best thing. Music is that universal thing, Gindo said, that improves moods and connects people even when you can’t connect in person during times like this.
As a therapist, Gindo has a deep understanding of how music affects behavior. With that in mind, Gindo says she and the staff work together to meet varying social, cognitive, communication and emotional goals for each resident.
“The residents might clap along with a Polka or tap their feet with another song,” said Gindo, who plays a multitude of instruments. “The staff members help a lot. That’s what is really great about the Care Center. They really encourage the residents to participate.”
Since the beginning, Gindo has been scheduled at the Center twice a month. Over the years, she and the staff have collaborated on different themes, including an “I hate winter day,” in which Gindo incorporated Beach Boys’ music, Irish music in March and outdoor therapy in the gazebo during nice weather. Also, pre COVID-19, there was even an intergenerational music party where local kindergarteners and the residents got a taste of both generations’ music.
Building relationships with the residents also helps them in reaching their goals. At times when one-on-one works best, Gindo might talk with the resident about their deceased spouse and help him or her write a song about the loved one. Or she may just play a golden oldie that is a fond memory.
You would be surprised, Strait explained. “Even for those with dementia, the music still brings out facial expressions,” she said. “It brings out smiles and some will even sing out some of the words like ‘You are my sunshine.’”
“It’s all positive stimulation,” echoed Gindo, whether one on one or with the big group. “With a lot of residents we work on memory skills and get them to play an instrument or engage at least for part of the time… For some, that may be just opening their eyes. It depends on each person. For younger residents, I also recommend different music apps they can use. The staff has always been an integral part of Gindo’s efforts, but especially now. Whether connecting to the big screen for the large group or bringing the iPad and speaker into individuals’ rooms for that one-on-one connection, staff members are key.
Sometimes the chosen music can prompt residents to reminisce. A tear may even come to their eyes, Gindo said, as she did some reminiscing of her own.
“There was a resident I remember that was quite the dancer in his day,” Gindo recalls. We’ll call him “Harry.” He went to all the dances and Polkas in his day.
“He was a vivacious guy but different things happened with his health and he was less active,” Gindo explained. “He had declined quite a bit and didn’t talk as much. He was kind of withdrawn. One day, I played some Big Band music and grabbed his hands and danced with him while he was in his wheelchair.”
That’s all it took.
“He livened up,” Gindo said. He’s still king of the dancefloor. “I’ve worked with him a long time,” Gindo said. “Sometimes when I grabbed his hands, he started singing. He still winks at everybody. Whoever is up for it, we (she and staff members) would grab hands and dance a little.”
Gindo and the Estelline Care Center staff agree that COVID-19 has changed a lot of things and made life more challenging. Residents haven’t been able to go on family outings and they can no longer hold residents’ hands and dance with them. But Gindo and her music are still making a difference. “Music is still a wonderful connector across the screen,” Gindo said, adding, that residents can still sing, listen, clap and get their feet a tapping.
As far as Estelline Care Center and Gindo are concerned… that’s music to everyone’s ears.