Chasing the Blues Away

Using a Stick and a Song to Fight Depression in Older Adults

By Kathy Swanegan, RN, Director of Admissions at Twin Oaks at Heritage Pointe

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most older adults are happy. They may not be ecstatic, but the CDC reports that only one to five percent of older people have major depression. Unfortunately, that number increases (13.5 percent) for those requiring home healthcare and to 11.5 percent in older hospital patients.

Even so, those of us working in senior living and long-term care communities know that there are many losses that come with aging, such as moving from a long-time home, losing a spouse, developing health limitations and less socialization. Fortunately, there is research showing the effectiveness of mutual support groups in alleviating loneliness and depression in the community.

I’m always looking for new and creative ways to increase socialization and decrease the loneliness my residents at Twin Oaks may experience. When I found Java Music Club I knew it was a program that would meet all of my criteria.

Java Music Club isn’t something I created – it’s a researched-based mutual support group program used throughout the country – but the fact is that it works. Using the tradition of an Aboriginal Talking Stick, each person is given time to speak. Breathing exercises help relieve stress and anxiety. Established discussion topics facilitate conversation. Compact discs of familiar music and songbooks have participants smiling and singing together. And, of course, there’s coffee and cake. All of these aspects allow me as a facilitator to create a friendly, safe space where participants can share thoughts, feelings and experiences.

My participants share stories at Java Music Club that they say they’d never share at Bingo or even at the dinner table. The club gives them a different level of encouragement, connection and enrichment. And, because music is “stored” in a different part of the brain than speech, even those residents who suffer from memory loss, dementia and aphasia hum or sing along with the songs.

I see so much pride and sense of community and belonging from those who participate in the weekly club. They carry the affirmations, coping skills and even the songs with them for the entire week and it helps to raise spirits and improve connection with one another.

Depression is a serious, underdiagnosed and undertreated disease in older adults, and we each have to do what we can to provide support and coping skills, which could be something as simple as singing some songs, drinking some coffee and sharing our thoughts through the passing of a stick.