By Henri Harps

Music has an undeniable impact on the well-being of older adults, and even has therapeutic benefits for people with memory loss. One of my primary goals as Music Programming Coordinator at Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS) is to bring as much music into residents’ lives as possible.

When partnering with music organizations in Chicago, I knew they would bring talent and therapeutic benefits to our communities. What I didn’t realize was meaningful friendships would develop between visiting musicians and residents. That’s been one of the most amazing results of CMSS’ partnership with the Civic Fellows of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Once a week for the past several months, this troupe of five musicians visited Hartwell Place, CMSS’ assisted living community for people experiencing memory loss. They performed for residents, played music with them, and perhaps most importantly, they got to know them on a personal level. These visits made an impact on the quality of life of the older adults at our communities as well as the Civic Fellows.

“It has been the most lovely experience. If I had to pick a favorite part it would be the friendships we built with the residents at Hartwell Place,” Rebecca Boelzner, violist for the Civic Fellows, said. “Seeing their smiles, singing with them, dancing with them — our Sunday visits quickly became the highlight of our week.”

The Civic Fellows first came to CMSS because we believe music can have real therapeutic benefits. In fact, through our innovative Sounds of Healing program, we develop unique care plans that incorporate the healing powers of music for residents with memory loss.

“[CMSS] was already implementing a variety of musical programs and therapeutic means for their residents. We wanted to play a role in furthering their musical programs and bringing the community together at CMSS,” Queenie Edwards, violinist for the Chicago Fellows, said.

The Civic Fellowship Program is known for the changemaking work they do in communities across Chicago, from conducting songwriting residences for youth in prison to working with support groups for parents who have tragically lost a child to gun violence. No matter the cause they’re working on, they use the power of music to build relationships in the communities they work with. Those relationships have had an incredible impact during their visits with older adults experiencing memory loss at CMSS.

“In our sessions at Hartwell we saw a number of positive responses. Many residents would sing and clap along to familiar songs. Many would smile and some would even get up and dance!” Rebecca said.

CMSS is fortunate to work with a range of amazing local music organizations making a difference in our communities, including Songs By Heart Foundation and Musicians on Call. Thanks to partnerships with these organizations, residents in our communities can continue to benefit from music and build lasting relationships. To learn more about CMSS’ music and art programming, visit our website.

Henri Harps is the Music Programming Coordinator at Chicago Methodist Senior Services, a nonprofit provider of memory care; skilled nursing; supportive and assisted living; cardiac, orthopedic, neurologic and general medical rehabilitation; and other aging services.