The Kindness of Kindermusik And How It Changes the Lives of Young and Old
August 17, 2019
Guest Blog by Cameron Terry
Kindermusik® has been providing music based education to children around the globe for over 40 years and thanks to Carol Penney, recently expanded their initiative to the elderly and elder care facilities. I had the pleasure of meeting Carol this summer to help her with a fundraiser for the Kindermusik Children’s Fund named in her honor. We got to talk about her work as an advocate for the aging who may be experiencing dementia or Alzheimers and their loved ones.
Carol has been in the Kindermusik family for many years as an educator and as Director of Education for Kindermusik International. After her husband Carl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she began to notice similarities between the developing brains of the children she’d taught and the declining cognitive ability of her husband. Knowing how he and the other patients at the The Elizabeth and Tab Williams Adult Day Center could benefit from Kindermusik, she shared the previously child-focused curriculum with the clients. The curriculum and activities were the same but now involved children, parents, grandparents, and nannies alongside the clients in the memory care facility to share the known benefits of Kindermuik across generations and capitalize on the commonalities among what seem to be very different groups of people.
At Kindermusik with Gina
Before I met Carol, my mom invited me to a class she was teaching at a local elder care facility which she calls “Kindermusik with Grandfriends.” It is a Friday class every other month at ElderCenter Adult Day Care in Statesville, NC and it is a bonus opportunity for her studio families.
At the beginning of class, the ElderCenter clients formed a circle of chairs and the children gathered in the center with their parents and others who were participating in the class. The kids quickly acclimated to the new environment as friendly faces around them passed out instruments and sang a few songs.
I took some photos and afterwards talked with Kindermusik parents, ElderCenter staff, and clients. Everything that they told me (how they looked forward to the classes, loved the youthful energy, the music, etc.) was all reinforced by the smiles that were glued to their faces the entire class.
“It’s such a special time, watching the generations interact. Everyone is having a good time.”Meleah Earl, Kindermusik Parent.
Employees at the facility even say that elders’ moods will improve and their self esteem rises as they feel more purposeful. I noticed a domino effect that Carol talked about in one of her presentations. “It takes place between everyone present in a class. Parents love seeing their children open themselves up to older generations. Kids love meeting new compassionate people that take part in their Kindermusik classes. Elders are in a visibly better mood and their caretakers, consequently, feel relief.” Upon first hearing this, I was skeptical but after witnessing it myself, I completely understood where she is coming from.
“‘People with dementia prefer to talk about the past because they often find the present confusing. So when they have conversations with adults, who are constantly trying to re-orient them to the present, they may come across confused or disengaged. With children however, there’s none of that. They just want to play.”Mila Blofield, Lifestyle Officer at Tabulam Cottages.” (3)
Beyond the Anecdotal
Although Kindermusik is not the same as formal music therapy, they share similar benefits. Melissa Cleary, activities director at ElderCenter, Inc. in Statesville, has been particularly pleased with the ways in which participating in the Kindermusik class seems to consistently calm her client’s nerves while also keeping them excited about their day. “Seeing my people smile makes me happy. I think it calms them down as a kind of stress release and it helps with their anxiety.” Personal accounts only go so far as to show the credibility and effectiveness of programs like Kindermusik with Grandfriends though, so researchers have conducted various experiments to try and measure the effects of music therapy on the elderly.
Wake Forest University is currently researching the impacts of Kindermusik classes on older participants diagnosed with a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s. Their initial pilot study recorded interaction levels of different participants during a class and their mood during different times of the day. A correlation was found between the amount of interaction in class and the recorded mood of the participants afterwards – especially in comparison with the mood of the participants if they did not come to class at all. Additionally, the stress level of the caregiver was lower when the mood of the participant was in a better state. Other studies show improved cognitive ability in patients with Alzheimer’s.
“Many researches have demonstrated that Music Therapy is beneficial to improve cognition and to reduce neuropsychiatric syndromes of Alzheimer’s Disease” (2)
“Music therapy may reduce stress and cognitive decline, for both short- and long-term memory in Alzheimer’s patients, says Yuko Hara, director of aging and Alzheimer’s prevention at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation in New York City.” (1)
Further research is needed, but current data is revealing what educators and caregivers have been observing for quite some time. It is an exciting prospect for everyone who has felt the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or the general struggles of senility.
A Kindermusik Legacy
Along with its cognitive and emotional benefits, the intergenerational experience of a class like Kindermusik with Grandfriends gives the elderly a chance to reignite the spark of playfulness inside that perhaps has been dimmed over time. Happy music, fun movement, silly songs, singalongs, sharing instruments and playing as an ensemble – all these work to benefit children and their development, but they also work to forge connections among all ages in the group.
As a Kindermusik Kid myself, and as someone who has pursued music in many different forms, I know the extent to which it can bring people together. Saying “music is a universal language” is a bit of a stretch in my opinion, but between those with whom you are playing it can definitely be a unifying element. A commonality that you can use to bypass the differences that may keep you apart. Even listening to the same music as someone else is a bit of connection you may not have had otherwise. I personally try to use music to meet new people and get out of the bubble I may find myself in at University. It is easy to group myself with those who are similar to me but I’m always trying to bridge the gaps between myself and others that are different from me through music. Kindermusik, I feel, is doing the same: using their renowned kindness and music based curriculum to bring people together from age one to one hundred.
Kindermusik CEO, Scott Kinsey
“In a world that seems out of control much of the time these days, I am grateful for what we collectively do at KI and through our network of educators, schools and partners. Our work creates opportunities for families to come together, in class and at home, to share moments of joy through music. As violence and intolerance make-up the majority of what we hear throughout the day via news and social media, you are able to help others remember the importance of kindness, love and relationships. Thank you for what you are doing to make our communities better places. You are making a difference. Take solace in that.”
In memory of Carl Penney, February 22, 1941 – July 31, 2019