By Caroline Franks
With the ringing of chimes on a table in the centre of the activities room, nine residents at The Salvation Army Grace Manor begin their weekly Java Music Club meeting.
The club began at Grace Manor in March 2018 with a goal to help alleviate loneliness, depression and social isolation among residents in long-term care homes.
The program was founded by Kristine Theurer, PhD at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, was introduced to 33 long-term care homes and five retirement residences in Ontario in 2018 as a result of a grant from the Centre for Aging + Brain Health.
The program is also funded by Carleton University and the government of Ontario through the Ontario Centres for Learning Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care at Bruyère Continuing Care.
When first introduced to Grace Manor as a part of a pilot research project, the staff received training and materials to facilitate the introduction of the program to residents.
“We begin by reading through our group guidelines every week, reaffirming that we are a group that believes in loving kindness and we are group that is going to listen and support each other and allow everyone a chance to speak,” said Bethany Hambrey, Activities Assistant at Grace Manor. “Every week we go through the same set agenda. We sing a song at the beginning and end of the meeting which were written for the program.”
Each week a theme is introduced where residents are given the opportunity to discuss and share their views and experiences. Some of the themes include music, sports, childhood memories, grief, those were the days, the seasons, and peace.
“The creator of the program didn’t want all the themes to be happy in nature but rather open up a discussion on some difficult and emotional topics as well. It gives the residents, many who have lost their independence and are living in a new place, an opportunity to share honestly, build relationships and facilitate community which is sometimes lacking in long-term care homes,” said Bethany.
“I come to this group because I feel it’s a very gentle supportive community,” said resident Bonnie Lissel, who has been coming to Java Music Club for over 6 months. “You get to know people and socialize with them; otherwise you don’t talk to other residents.”
So far the program at Grace Manor has seen positive results. Residents who generally kept to themselves are beginning to interact more with one another.
“One resident started meeting people at Java Music Club and now I see her when she leaves the dining room stopping to talk with two ladies in the group,” said Bethany. “Connections are being made and the club offers a place where people have the opportunity to voice how they are feeling in a safe place. They can express such things as ‘I am sad. I am lonely. I feel like I am grieving for the life I used to have.’”
The club has been running nearly a year at Grace Manor and the plan is to continue it indefinitely. Because of the success and high participation rate; the staff at Grace Manor started a second group for residents with lower cognitive abilities which has a greater focus on music as well as guided and assisted conversation.
“It’s been a really beautiful experience listening to the residents share, rejoice and grieve,” said Bethany. “The full breadth of human experience and emotions has been experienced at Java Music Club and I feel very honoured to be a part of it.”