When COVID-19 hit in March, 87-year-old Betty Sulewski was cut off from the regular daycare programs she'd come to enjoy, and the toll that took on her became visible to her family.
"Having that interaction with others and that stimulation was really critical," said Kathleen Biggs, Sulewski's daughter.
"We noticed that mom was really going downhill. So the communication skills almost stopped. You'd ask a question and the response is, 'I don't know.'"
Sulewski has dementia and lives with Biggs and her husband. The care program she used to attend had special group activities for those with dementia — including music therapy — and Biggs said they struggled to find alternate ways to keep her mother stimulated.
Biggs enrolled her mother in virtual one-on-one music therapy sessions, which have now become a regular part of the senior's routine. She said she notices a difference in her mother.
"To have her engaged through music … being present, it is wonderful. Because there really isn't anywhere that I can take her to give her this stimulation," said Biggs.
With no clear end in sight to physical distancing measures, some experts say as we head into the holidays, it's important for seniors to stay engaged and music therapy can offer a lifeline for those living with dementia.
Music therapists form a relationship with patients to accomplish set goals. For seniors living with dementia, some of those goals can be increasing socialization and enhancing self-awareness. Sessions might include singing a familiar song together, the playing of one or more instruments, improvisation or rhythmic activities.
In-person to iPad
Miya Music Therapy is one of the companies Biggs has been working with to keep her mother engaged. Since the start of the pandemic, Miya Adout, the company's founder and director, said she's seen an increase in demand for virtual sessions.
"A lot of families are calling us, and right now, especially, saying that their family members are very isolated," said Adout.