Resident Alex Zroback plays air guitar along to Shania Twain’s “Man I Feel Like a Woman” alongside Willingdon Creek Village Activity Programmer Joan Bieber.

Unleashing the power of music at Powell River’s Willingdon Creek Village

 “Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus.” – Oliver Sacks

Great things can happen when a community comes together to help bring joy to some of its most vulnerable citizens. In this case, it’s the community of Powell River and staff at Willingdon Creek Village (WCV) who wanted to bring the gift of music to the residents of the care facility, particularly those suffering from dementia.

Inspired after watching a local screening of the stirring and uplifting documentary Alive Inside, which “captures music’s capacity to reawaken the soul and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity,” many in the audience voiced their support for creating a similar music program in Powell River.

“One by one, community audience members offered their input to get it started in Powell River – the One Voice choir conductor suggested a benefit concert, another donated a computer, some pledged donations, computer experts offered their time and knowledge,” says Joan Bieber, Activity Programmer.  “Another community member then bought the Alive Inside DVD, so we had a second showing at Willingdon Creek Village and a steering committee of 10 got the project started.”

Community generosity behind Music Alive project

That project is Music Alive.  And it’s offering a simple, yet effective gateway to stimulate and reach people who are otherwise unreachable.

In just a matter of weeks, WCV staff have seen noticeable, if not life-changing, differences in many of their clients when they’ve been given individualized playlists to listen to. It’s also a way to finally give pleasure to persons with advanced dementia.

“One gentleman who rarely talks was listening to his music and stated it was ‘nice music’ and then he kept the beat by clicking his tongue and moving his head and shoulders. After listening he was more alert and had a lovely conversation with his wife,” says Joan. “It’s truly amazing how one special song can unlock lost memories.”

Research has shown that listening to your favourite music brings immense joy, memory enhancement, added brain activity, mood change and happiness.

The ‘Powell River way’

A resident listens to his individualized playlist while his wife sits with him.

A resident listens to his individualized playlist while his wife listens in, too.

“Angry moods are changed on a dime as the headsets are donned,” says Joan. “One doctor even prescribed music. When a headset was placed on a resident who calls out constant repetitive phrases,  she suddenly closed her eyes and smiled contentedly – a benefit for her and to those around her.”

Thanks to the initial donation of $1,000 from the One Voice choir, 10  of WCV residents were “hooked up” to MP3s.  And thanks to a fundraising BBQ that friends, family and individuals supported, WCV now has equipment for 30 residents.

“This program we call Music Alive has been community built right from the start and flourishes because it works and is supported by the recreation therapy team, the nursing team, management, WCV families and community volunteers,” says Joan. “This is the Powell River way.”

Glimmers of hope in dementia care

Iwan van Veen, Manager Residential Care, is as equally delighted as his staff and residents with the program.

“Music is such an important part of our lives and is often linked to pivotal moments and good memories. Often, you re-live a certain memory just by hearing that special song,” says Iwan. “That’s what we are seeing with our residents. Their personalities often get buried away in the dungeons of dementia but resurface when they hear the music of their youth.  This project, made available to us by the generosity of our community and volunteers, creates one of those sought after ‘glimmers of hope’ in dementia care that we are always looking for.”



  1. Brendan Shields says:

    It is so nice to hear of people discovering the power of music and how it can enrich the lives of not only those in care but all people. It is also surprising to me (an Music Therapist who works in VCH) that this keeps needing to be rediscovered. There is an entire profession called music therapy that is completely focused on using the inherent properties in music the address the health and well-being of individuals. There are dozens of Music Therapist who work in VCH and many more who work privately. We are all trained, and at minimum, hold a bachelor degree in music therapy, with many of us having masters and doctoral levels degrees. We work in long term care, mental health and addictions, palliative care, and pediatrics to name a few.It is nothing new to use music as a force of health in our lifes and we all can do that. However, to skillfully use the tools that music offers to address specific needs of a patient in care does require knowledge, ability, and clinic skills. Music Therapy is a regulated profession that is part of a complete health care team.

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