Room 217 grad brings music care initiative to Ottawa

by Deb Bartlett

One of Room 217’s Level 3 Music Care Training graduates has committed to a year’s worth of fundraising to bring music care into the lives of residents of Extendicare Starwood.

Emily lives in Ottawa, and is working with Cindy McNabb the resident program manager of the Extendicare home in Nepean to present a day-long session to staff, volunteers and residents’ family members about music care, and how music can make a difference in the lives of residents, particularly those living with dementia, or requiring palliative care.

The project has been in the works for about six months, and Emily has been getting partners in place for the initiative. She has been generating awareness about the project, and investigating fundraising options to pay the costs of bringing a Room 217 instructor to Ottawa for the day.

To that end, has established a Go-Fund-Me campaign and has planned a series of live performances at Ottawa’s outdoor markets, all launching in September. Emily and Cindy are planning for the music care instruction to take place in the fall of 2020.

Even though creating and launching a music care initiative is part of Room 217’s Music Care Training, Emily says the idea for the program at Extendicare Starwood is something she “never would have dreamt of back then.”

It’s also something Cindy was eager to get on board with. “Our residents are changing, and we need to change with them – our approaches, our methods of care,” says Cindy. “Music can be a helping and healing tool, and reaches people in many more ways than pure entertainment.  Starwood is excited and honored to a part of this initiative.”

Emily knowns that music can bring so much to whole-person care. Through her music care training, Emily learned about how music, and singing in particular, is a neurologically beneficial activity for people living with dementia. “I learned how music has the power to connect a person with dementia to their environment, other, and most importantly, back to themselves,” she says. And that the use of music in palliative care settings can assist in a number of ways, including distraction from pain and encouraging slow and regular respiration, in addition to filling space.

Emily is the program facilitator at the Glebe Centre Long Term Care Centre, and she has worked 1:1 with a man who had dementia, helping his wife in supporting him. This is where Emily “gained the experience in which I could have the most impact since the ‘community’ was so small; as one person I could have an immense impact on the culture of care.”

“It was so clear to me that when you weave music into daily activities…it enhances the experience for that person with dementia and their caregivers,” she says. Emily says once she began intentionally integr4ating music into care there was “an explosion of ease” in supporting him in activities of daily living. For example, rather than waking him up with lights, touch and speech, Emily would walk into his room singing, “Oh what a beautiful morning…” and he would wake up daily finishing the song with her, and trying to get out of bed. “Music oriented him to his day,” she says; that experience solidified the importance of integrating music into care. She wants the staff at Extendicare Starwood to be empowered to use music, too.

The majority of Emily’s Music Care Training were based on her studies at University of Waterloo, and her internship at Ontario Shores for Mental Health Sciences, and her work as at recreation therapist assistant at Lakeridge Health Whitby on the complex continuing care floor.

Emily is looking for several people to help her bring this Music Care Ottawa initiative to life. In particular, she’d love other musicians to volunteer to perform with her at the fundraising concerts. Anyone interested in donating time or money to the initiative can contact Emily by email at [email protected].