Making a difference at both “ends” of life

by Katie Henderson on October 10, 2015

My heart overflowed this week when I had a chance to assist at our Foundation Class for seniors, (with Moms and their kiddos) at Heritage Manor in Bloomington. It struck me so profoundly how the goals we have for a little one – working on range of motion in the arms and legs, labeling and recalling words – are important goals in maintaining the health of seniors at the other “end of the spectrum” of life, so to speak. With babies and music in the mix, these seniors, most confined to wheel chairs, having impaired memory and cognitive functioning, literally come to life before our eyes! Their heads move from a drooped, sagging (“gonna sleep right here”) state to upright, and their eyes beam, their feet tap, hands wave and move, and they SING! WOW do they sing! Because our curriculum contains many standard folk songs, the repertoire is perfect for the seniors. In fact, this week, they were singing lesson songs that even our moms didn’t know – Irish Lullaby “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral” “Let me Call you Sweetheart,” “You are My Sunshine,” etc. As moms, toddlers, and seniors joined together in our final Circle Dance, singing “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies” the resounding chorus brought me to tears. (Funny, I can’t say that “Ring Around the Rosie” has ever been cause for such emotion – laughter, yes, tears, no :-)! What we do as a Foundation is such important work – helping moms (many of whom would otherwise not come to Kindermusik) understand how to use the natural medium of music to foster their little ones’ cognitive, physical, language, social & emotional development; and with this easy, added “layer” of surrounding a typical Moms/Kids class with seniors, we bring joy, and, I believe, important therapy to the seniors, helping to boost and maintain their mental and physical health as well. Further, the intergenerational connection between young families with seniors is an important facet in the lives of both; many young people these days do not have a regular connection with the elderly, and, of course, the reverse is also true, particularly once seniors are confined to nursing homes. Kristy Hoffmann, one of the moms participating in the Kindermusik with Seniors class, says: “I love being a part of Heritage Manor Kindermusik class. It is such a great experience for my kids and myself as well! The kids love interacting with the residents and it is great for their confidence and social skills. My favorite part, though, is seeing the nursing home residents light up with smiles. You can really tell the class has a huge impact on them and leaves them feeling great.”
I admit to a bit of a personal “agenda” in my passion for this particular Foundation initiative: My grandmother was the person in my life who fueled my love for and experience in music. I recall when she was near death and my Dad advised I come for a final visit (to Florida); he counseled me that “Grannie” was typically non-responsive, and might not even know me. At that time, she had limited words and was not seeing well, and confined to bed. Sitting with her on my first visit day in the nursing home, I held her hand and talked to her, hoping that the sound of my voice or my touch would be enough to trigger a response. After a while, and no response, I began to sing to her – an old song she taught me: “A song of love is a sad song, Hi Lili, Hi-Lo;” Her eyes and mouth opened wide as she “woke up” and joined me in song, to the top of what her failing lungs could muster. Following that, we had nearly two hours of wonderful conversation – hardly fathomable at her current state of health. She asked me about my kids – whether my son, Benjamin, was still taking piano lessons, how Kindermusik was doing, if “baby Grace” was eating and sleeping well. And then, she “went to sleep” again. Music reaches depths and heights that we cannot explain – at both “ends of the spectrum,” and every one in between.
As it now stands, this class is donated to the seniors facility by our Foundation in short five week sessions. Previously only offered in the summers, this year we had a staff member who wanted additional teaching hours (and whose background as a Speech-Language Pathologist made her uniquely qualified to teach this class), so we stepped out in faith to begin offering two regular five week “Kindermusik with SeniorS” sessions during the school year. If we could fund this program, I’d be there every single week of the year. In fact, next week is our last week there, and my mind is churning on how NOT to allow it to end. I feel so lucky that impacting lives with music has been my life’s work, and my resolve to bring it to others as an important, lasting part of their lives fuels me, and the goals for our Foundation, every day. IMG_2554

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