Music Brings Out The Heart In Seniors – Radford Green of Sedgebrook recently invited Songs By Heart to visit three days a week

January 25, 2016 in Announcements
Article originally from Patch

Radford Green of Sedgebrook began offering a program to its memory care residents in October that has people singing its praises – quite literally.

In addition to its current roster of activity programs, the senior living community recently invited Songs By Heart to visit three days a week. The organization offers professionally trained vocalists and musicians to lead interactive sing-along programs to engage with residents.

The results have been remarkable. In addition to toe tapping and finger snapping, many residents will also sing – an activity that for some was lost years ago as a side effect of dementia.

“The program is really enchanting,” says Mary Seaberg, Activity Program Manager for Radford Green. “For those who have lost the ability to have their voice heard because their word finding skills have diminished due to disease progression, songs and music help the residents come out and become alive again.”

It is the interaction the vocalists make with the residents as they sing songs, either by holding hands or making eye contact, that touches on the social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of wellness, Seaberg says.

Research indicates that music can shift mood, stimulate positive interaction, coordinate motor movements and facilitate cognitive function, and staff at Radford Green can certainly attest to noticing those improvements in residents during the music programs.

“We know music reaches our residents even if they don’t have cognitive impairment,” says Director of Assisted Living Leslie Green. “Watching some of the residents get up and dance when the singer starts to sing touches a part of your heart. Their faces just light up.”

Community leadership visited a Songs By Heart performance and knew immediately it was something they wanted to bring to Sedgebrook. When the performers came and performed a short demonstration of their act, it only took one song to notice a change in the memory care residents who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“The residents were immediately alert and engaged,” Seaberg says. “Music is instant, gratifying and comforting to the residents. So when a song begins they perk up and tap their toes.”

Songs By Heart is designed for residents living in memory care neighborhoods, but it draws in spouses living in independent care for some quality couple time.

“It is very inspiring to see the music allow the clock to stop for 45 minutes for total engagement between spouses, and see the hand holding and snuggling come back to them during the program,” she says. “The music is the key.”

In fact, the staff at Sedgebrook recognize just how important music is to the residents that a player piano is located in the memory care wing, and upright pianos are located on the other floors for impromptu sing-alongs between staff and residents. Those locations are also used for other weekly live musical entertainment including guitarists, violinists, accordionists, flutists, saxophonist and vocalists.

“The staff is right there with them to engage and hold hands and sing,” Green says. “We are very happy that we are able to make this musical commitment to the entire community. There is a human need for touch and when you couple that with music it’s a win-win, all the way around.”

Sedgebrook is a Life Plan Community offering a diverse lifestyle, maintenance-free living and outstanding amenities. Five-star rated Radford Green Health Care and Rehabilitation is located on the 92-acre Sedgebrook campus in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Sedgebrook is owned by Senior Care Development LLC and managed by Life Care Services LLC. For additional information visit or call 847-901-3319.

Music Is Good For The Mind, Body, And Soul: Singing Improves Memory, Mood In Dementia Patients

December 10, 2015 in Uncategorized
Article originally from Medical Daily

Singing is good for the soul — and for memory — according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The study found that elderly individuals with mild to moderate dementia experienced improvements in their working memory after they received a 10-week music coaching intervention.

For the study, researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland recruited 89 individuals with various degrees of dementia and their caregivers to receive musical coaching over the course of 10 weeks. Coaching included either regular singing or listening to familiar songs, the press release reported.

The researchers also systematically evaluated the impact of dementia severity, age of volunteers, their care situation, and their previous musical experience, in order to measure who benefited most from the musical intervention. In addition, the volunteers received extensive neuropsychological testing; mood and quality of life measures were performed both during and after the musical intervention.

Results revealed that singing was beneficial to the volunteers’ working memory, regardless of whether or not they had ever played a musical instrument or taken singing lessons. These effects were especially prominent in those with mild dementia and those who were younger than 80. In addition, the act of singing or listening to music was also found to alleviate depression in volunteers with mild Alzheimer’s-type dementia. Music listening was also beneficial in supporting general cognition and working memory in volunteers with moderate dementia.

In an email to Medical Daily, lead researcher Dr.Teppo Särkämö explained that in the early stages of dementia, when the cognitive impairments are still relatively mild, musical activities that are engaging and stimulating can be very beneficial. According to Särkämö, even something as simple as encouraging singing in a community choir, or nursing homes providing more musical activities, could help to make a difference for patients with the early onset dementia.

“In the later stages of dementia when the cognitive deficits are more severe, music listening could be a more easily applicable way,” Sarkamo wrote.

The healing benefits of music were notably represented in the 2014 independent documentary, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.” The film, which was a contender at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, explores just how much of an effect music can have on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. In the film, viewers can watch otherwise quiet and secluded patients light up after music is integrated to their nursing homes.

Source: Särkämö T, Laitinen S, Numminen A, Kurki M, Johnson JK, Rantanen P. Clinical and Demographic Factors Associated with the Cognitive and Emotional Efficacy of Regular Musical Activities in Dementia. 2015.


Northwestern University’s Fanfare Magazine and Bienen School of Music features Songs by Heart

October 14, 2015 in Features
Article originally published in Northwestern University’s Fanfare Issue of Fall 2015 and Bienen School of Music

Nancy Gustafson hopes to improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia through the power of music.

A Bienen School artist in residence and a professional opera singer for more than 30 years, Gustafson (G80) founded the Songs by Heart Foundation to bring quality-of-life-enrichment programs into retirement communities nationwide. Through interactive live music programming, the organization aims to improve the intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, and emotional well-being of those with age-related memory issues.

“We’ve been seeing amazing results,” says Gustafson. “In my opinion, every retirement community ought to have these programs every day. It makes the lives of people who have dementia that much better.”

During a 12-week pilot program in spring 2015, Gustafson partnered with the North Shore’s Presbyterian Homes to bring vocalists and pianists to Westminster Place in Evanston, Lake Forest Place in Lake Forest, and The Moorings of Arlington Heights for programming five days per week. The performers’ song book, customized for each community based on feedback from residents’ family members, included classic tunes from Broadway and Disney as well as old favorites such as “You Are My Sunshine” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

A key aspect of the Songs by Heart sing-along program is the interaction between musicians and residents. Before and after each session, the vocalists shake hands with every resident in attendance, making eye contact while welcoming them or thanking them for listening. Throughout the performances, they hold hands and sometimes dance with residents to further connect them to the music and their emotions.

“We have found that providing an interactive program, where you’re actually engaging the people and connecting to the people, is the important thing,” says Gustafson. “There is a huge difference between someone with dementia just listening to music as a passive activity and actually singing with the musician in an active way.”

A music-therapy consultant oversees the musicians and trains them to work with people with dementia. In order to be selected for the program, artists must demonstrate strong interpersonal skills as well as exceptional musical talent.

Several Bienen School of Music alumni have participated in the outreach program, including vocalists Emily Becker (G08, CP09), Caitlyn Glennon (G11), Sarah Simmons (G10), and Ethan Simpson (G15) and pianists Jason Carlson (04, G07) and Ellen Morris (G14).

Emily Becker, who also serves as Songs by Heart’s artistic administrator, says it is truly heartwarming to see how much joy the program brings to everyone involved. “There are people at each location who seem to be asleep through the session but say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Come back soon’ with their eyes closed as we are saying goodbye,” says Becker. “I can’t imagine how dark and scary life must be for these folks who don’t even open their eyes often, and to see them smile or even communicate just affirms that what we are doing is making a real difference in their quality of life, if only for an hour a day.”

Gustafson was inspired to establish Songs by Heart after her mother—a 1949 Northwestern graduate—developed Alzheimer’s disease. Frustrated at being unable to communicate with her mother on any level, Gustafson turned to the piano. She was surprised when her mother commented on the playing and singing after only a few minutes—first saying that it “wasn’t very good” and then agreeing that it was much better after Gustafson switched to a different song.

“I joked with her that we could play music at the local mall for money, and she replied, ‘Yes, we’ll be the Gustafson Family Singers.’ I was shocked! Not only did she remember who I was, she came up with a new idea on her own for the first time in months,” says Gustafson. “Before we made music together, my mother didn’t recognize that we were related.”

After that breakthrough, Gustafson and her sister arranged for a music therapist to visit their mother once a week and for a vocalist to sing with her two days a week. Impressed with her mother’s continuing response to music, Gustafson knew she wanted to find a way for others with dementia to have daily access to a program that could improve their quality of life through music.

The Songs by Heart pilot project helped Gustafson and her team develop best practices for interactive programming under the guidance of several consultants, including Mary Ann Anichini, vice president of continuous quality improvement at Presbyterian Homes. Anichini tracked residents’ engagement at all three locations during the 12-week period to measure the program’s effectiveness. Interviews with family members and caregivers suggested that resident participation and alertness continued even after a given music session ended.

Building on these initial assessments, Gustafson is collaborating with fellow Bienen School faculty member Steven Demorest, professor of music education, and Darby Morhardt, research associate professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, to develop a more controlled research study and gather additional data.

Ultimately Gustafson plans to organize a national board of directors for Songs by Heart and offer programming in as many elder care facilities as possible. “I understand now why I studied music, why I was a performer, and why I have been teaching voice,” says Gustafson. “Everything was preparing me for this. This is where I feel I can really make a difference in people’s lives.”


Presbyterian Homes Hosts Sylvia McNair and Kevin Cole in Benefit Concert

January 15, 2015 in Events

Evanston, IL (January 12, 2015)—Two-time Grammy Award winning singer Sylvia McNair and world-renowned pianist Kevin Cole will perform music from the Great American Songbook in benefit concerts at Lake Forest Place retirement community on Friday, February 6, at 7:30 p.m. and at Westminster Place retirement community on Saturday, February 7, at 7:30 p.m. The concert benefits the new Songs By Heart Foundation, which provides communication and connection to people with memory loss through the language and joy of music.

“My own successful experience in connecting with a family member with advanced stage Alzheimer’s disease through music led me to establish the Songs By Heart Foundation,” says Nancy Gustafson, founder and executive director. “We want to offer the same opportunity for engagement and improved quality of life to others with memory loss.” A lifelong resident of Evanston, Ms. Gustafson is an internationally acclaimed opera singer and artist-in-residence at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.

Ms. Gustafson continued, “Songs by Heart Foundation is seeking funding for a 12-week pilot program to develop a template for providing daily, interactive, live vocal performance with piano accompaniment for people with memory loss. The program will take place at Presbyterian Homes’ retirement communities in Lake Forest, Evanston, and Arlington Heights. ”

The pilot program will help establish best practices in its approach to reaching people with dementia in the present moment and enhancing their engagement with others. A music therapist and an expert in memory care will mentor the performers in connecting with older adults with dementia. Established assessment tools will measure the program’s impact on engagement and quality of life. Songs By Heart Foundation’s mission is to offer this outreach to persons with memory loss at retirement communities nationally.

General admission tickets for the concert on Saturday, February 7, are $125. A reception follows the concert. For more information, please call 513-503-8917.

Sylvia McNair

Sylvia McNair’s three-decade career has led her to the musical realms of opera, oratorio, cabaret and musical theater. Her journey has taken her from the Metropolitan Opera to the Salzburg Festival, from the New York Philharmonic to the Rainbow Room and the Ravinia Festival. Reviewed by publications to include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the London Times and Cabaret Scenes, Ms. Mc Nair has appeared as a soloist with nearly every major opera company and symphony orchestra in the world. She is currently bringing her voice to the songs of Gershwin, Porter, Sondheim and Bernstein.

Kevin Cole

Playing piano since the age of four, Kevin Cole is an award-winning musical director, arranger, composer, vocalist and archivist. Regarded as one of the best interpreters of music from the Great American Songbook, his sold-out performances include playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Concert Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall, National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, Chicago Symphony and the Boston Philharmonic. Mr. Cole has earned the praises of Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Hugh Martin, Burton Lane, Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch and members of the Jerome Kern and Gershwin families.


Westminster Place is a Presbyterian Homes continuing care retirement community located at 3200 Grant Street in Evanston, IL, that offers independent living in apartments, cottages and townhouses; assisted living, rehabilitative services, health care and memory care for more than 500 residents on a 40-acre campus.


Founded in 1904, Presbyterian Homes is a not-for-profit, faith based organization with a

national reputation for creating extraordinary retirement communities. Presbyterian Homes serves older adults through its residential and health care programs on campuses in Evanston, Lake Forest, and Arlington Heights, Illinois. The organization is accredited by CARF-CCAC (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities – Continuing Care Accreditation Commission), the nation’s only accrediting body for retirement communities. To find out more about Presbyterian Homes, go to