Music Therapy

Jenny Cook, Songs by Heart’s singer and music therapist, entertains residents at Hawthorne Court memory care facility in Ahwatukee.

Recently at Hawthorne Court in Ahwatukee, toes were tapping, couples were cuddling and normally silent residents were happily belting out the lyrics to the World War II-era tunes that once served as the soundtrack of their lives.

Music was working its magic, thanks to Songs by Heart, a non-profit organization that uses the power of music through live, interactive sing-alongs to engage with residents facing memory issues and dementia.

The sing-alongs – led by an engaging professional singer/music therapist – have become the highlight of the day for residents and staff at Hawthorne Court, a Senior Resource Group assisted living and memory care residence.

The program quite literally is music to residents’ ears as SRG implements this newest component of Enliven, its creative and adaptive memory care program.

“The concept is easy to understand,” said Songs by Heart Founder Nancy Gustafson. “It’s connecting with people through the joy and language of music. Once you get them singing, it’s amazing how they connect back to life.”

SRG CEO Michael Grust heard Gustafson speak at a conference about how she started Songs by Heart after witnessing the power music had on her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s and advanced dementia.

“I saw my mom looking so lost and so sad,” Gustafson said “The minute I got her singing, she started smiling and laughing. She came to life. I saw ‘my mom’ come back.”

At that moment, Grust said he knew he had to bring the Chicago-based program to Arizona. SRG’s communities, Hawthorn Court and Maravilla Scottsdale, are now the first in Arizona to offer Songs by Heart, and since its roll-out, the feedback from SRG staff and residents’ family members has been positive.

Staff members talk of breakthroughs in residents – including those who seldom speak or even open their eyes. They almost immediately begin interacting with the live performances.

They move to rhythm of the music and sing along happily. One woman who rarely leaves her room got so caught up in the moment at a recent sing-along she repeatedly stood up from her wheelchair to animate the lyrics.

“It gives me goosebumps every time I witness the magic of music,” Gustafson said.  

And magical it is. Even when conversation and recollection are a struggle, song can quite literally strike a chord in residents’ minds.

Like the veteran who remembered songs from his days in the Army, and beamed as he sang along.

Or the woman who broke free of her dementia-induced silence long enough to bring her husband to tears when she proudly told him and SRG staff, “He’s mine” during a love song.


Scientific research confirms the many benefits of music therapy in individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. They include memory recall, positive changes in mood and emotional states, sense of control over life, non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort and opportunities to interact socially with others.

This unique form of therapy perfectly aligns with Enliven, SRG’s memory care program created to help residents feel more connected and  as independent as possible, no matter what stage of the disease they are in.

“There are hardly words to describe the Songs by Heart program,” said Grust. “In so many ways, Song by Heart brought to life every one of Enlivens’ five principles and more. Our residents will be able to truly live these guiding principles through quality programs and the Enliven culture.”


Lauren Mendoza is a spokeswoman for Senior Resource Group.

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