VANCOUVER, Wash. – Daniel Maruyama sits in the center of a circle of residents, tapping his feet, playing his guitar and singing.
Maruyama, and nearly 20 residents at The Hampton at Salmon Creek, a memory care facility in Vancouver, are just getting warmed up during their weekly Wednesday music therapy session.
The 32-year-old Maruyama plays “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and a handful of other classics before tambourines and shakers are passed out about 20 minutes into the hour-long session earlier this month.
“You ready, Roger?” Maruyama cheerily asks one of the residents.
The residents shake and tap their instruments as Maruyama plays “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog.” The session is fairly simple, but its benefits are helpful. There’s a growing body of research that shows performing and practicing music can help contain the effects of aging and diseases of the brain.
Learning new music can strengthen connections in the brain and improve myelin, a covering around the nerve cells in brains, research shows. That can help conduct nerve impulses at higher speeds, and enhance communications between different areas in the brain.
Maruyama, who has been doing music therapy for about five years, can attest to its usefulness through a family story.
The last time Maruyama visited his grandmother was in Hawaii before she died, around July 2006. She was at a nonverbal point, and couldn’t recall close family.
“She didn’t recognize my mom, her own daughter. She didn’t recognize me, her own grandson,” Maruyama says. “She didn’t say anything for two days, and on the third day, a piano player was there, and they played this old traditional Japanese song, and then my grandma started singing along in Japanese, and I was like, ‘Whoa. What’s happening?’ Music has its connection to the past.”
Maruyama builds connections by calling residents by their first names during therapy, and making it an inclusive, social environment. The Hampton staff maneuvers around the room during therapy, and helps residents play instruments. Maruyama’s goals for sessions are creating social interaction, participation and sparking brain activity.
He plays songs residents would have listened to growing up, and he likes Gene Autry, partially because Maruyama is from Anaheim, California, and Autry used to own Anaheim’s professional baseball team, a personal touch Maruyama can share.
The Hampton contracts with Maruyama through Upbeat Music Therapy Services, and he’s been strumming at the memory care community for about a year. The Hampton tries to incorporate music into many of its activities, Executive Director Courtney Garibaldi said. Music can also help calm residents if they are frustrated.
“Music enhances people’s lives with dementia,” Garibaldi says. “There’s lots of emotions and memories that are invoked by music.”
Kieth Bakker’s wife, Patricia, lives at The Hampton, and he frequently joins her for activities. Bakker says she enjoys the sessions. The couple married almost 44 years ago, and met “in a bar, with music of course,” Bakker jokes. Patricia plays a metallophone during Autry’s “Red River Valley,” and Maruyama compliments her rhythm at the session.
“She was tapping her feet, and doing the things,” Bakker says.
Maruyama and the residents enjoy banter during the sessions. When Maruyama sings “Down by the Riverside,” he asks the residents what they like to do by the river, and one resident shoots back: “It’s a secret.”
“I’m gonna find some love down by the riverside,” Maruyama sings while containing a laugh.
For most of the hour a man in gray sweatpants and a sweater has been walking around the room aimlessly. But during “Red River Valley,” he’s immediately awakened and joins in. “In the good, old sunshine,” he sings.
“Those memories, when you’re like 20, are sometimes your strongest memories,” Maruyama says. “I play older tunes and it takes them back there sometimes.”
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