There is something very special about facilitating intergenerational music groups. As a music therapist, my job in these programs is to build a bridge between the generations, and that bridge is.... you guessed it...MUSIC!
Since the music is both motivating and accessible for both generations, it helps to break down other existing barriers. For example, a senior with dementia may not be able to engage in a meaningful verbal interaction with a child, but through engaging in music therapy interventions, they are then able to share moments together that bridge this gap and create an incredible effect on both participants.
There are many types of intergenerational music therapy groups, with group members of varying ages, backgrounds, and reasons for participating. The scenario that I have worked most with is a combination of seniors with dementia and Alzheimer's disease engaging in music with a group of children ages 4-6. Below I have outlined three goal areas I centre this work around. However, this can be applied to all sorts of intergenerational groups with different ages, abilities, and structures!
1. Meaningful interactions between seniors and younger participants.
As mentioned above, there are many factors that may make it challenging for a senior with dementia and a young child to share in meaningful interactions together. With the shared experience of music-making this can be rectified. Some ways this can be accomplished are through:
- Sharing an instrument together (i.e., a drum, ocean drum, rhythm sticks). This can be played together or it can be a joint effort of one participant holding the instrument while the other plays.
- Singing a song together. This can be done in unison, with turn taking, and can be set up in such a way that invites eye contact and engagement with one another.
- Moving to the music together . This can be done side by side, face to face, or with props such as a shared scarf or parachute.
2. Building confidence and social skills in younger participants.
Intergenerational groups are a great way to work towards leadership, confidence, and social skills for younger participants. Here are some ways this can be addressed:
- Having each child participate in some way with a participant from the older generation. This will vary depending on the needs of the child, but can be anywhere from having them volunteer to play an instrument together, having them hand out instruments to the seniors, having them sing in a duet for a performance, and the list goes on.
- It is important to assess where each child is at before hand to ensure that as the facilitator, you are aware of their current social skills and needs.
3. Cognitive stimulation for seniors.
Music therapy on in it's own provides benefits of cognitive stimulation for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. When we include children into the groups, it appears that this can be amplified. Often times, I have seen that despite the severity of dementia, many seniors truly light up when there is a child participating in a program. They appear to become more physically, socially, and cognitively engaged!
I have found a challenging aspect of facilitating intergenerational programs is to keep all of the seniors cognitively engaged while a certain interaction is being facilitated for one or two children and seniors in particular. It is important to find ways to continue to engage the entire group during this time. This can be through having them fill in the blanks to the song (leave spaces at the end of musical phrases), or having musical breaks for each group member to improvise on their given instrument.
I hope that this article has been handy for other music therapists providing intergenerational programming, and for community members who are interested!
Learn more about our intergenerational music program: Little Tunes Together!
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