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Arts Engagement and The Caregiver

Stories Love Music on Dementia MapSubmitted by Ilyana Kadushin
Founder/Executive Director
Program Director
Stories Love Music


Arts Engagement and Caring for the Caregiver

Being able to connect these two ideas took some time but ended up being the key to the evolution of my work with Stories Love Music, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York, where I was living and working as a singer and actor, I had a life altering moment at a hurricane shelter in Brooklyn.

We came to play a concert for those staying there. I witnessed the profound effect that music could have on those living in the shelter. Specifically that, when music was utilized in an interactive way and made room for engagement, a deeper connection human to human was found.

When someone felt seen and heard , their imagination being sparked by sound, as well as attention from the people providing it, well it was a magical combination!

Combining Music and Memory

This led me to 5 years of field work as musician and group facilitator, in memory units of senior facilities as well as Alzheimer’s units of rehabilitation centers. We explored creative engagement with caregivers (family and professionals) and those seniors with memory impairment they cared for.

This ultimately became integrated into the program that Stories Love Music provides today “The Joy of Creative Engagement” program for caregivers.

Years later I have had recreational/activities directors attend my program and respond to it with the understanding that it’s not the “activities” alone that make a difference in someone’s life, it’s how they are implemented.

They could see that so often in both nursing homes and private homes, that their burnout as caregivers, was causing them to set up activities and walk away with no energy for engagement with them.

With the rising numbers of seniors with dementia growing and at the same time a high incident of burnout and turnover of caregivers, I think we can all agree we are in a caregiving crisis point.

So how can we care for the caregiver and change the course of this?

Stories Love Music Group Session
Courtesy: Stories Love Music

Care for the Caregiver

In our caregiver engagement programs, we always start with the analogy of building a home together. The foundation of this house must be strong enough to allow the rest of the house to stand tall and not crumble under the weight.


The first part of our program focuses on caregivers using creative arts engagement on themselves for their own stress management and self care. Caregivers are given the time and space to remember the origin of music in their own lives and expressing the emotions that come so naturally with it!

Only when they truly see the value of this, can they move forward and learn the next part. The next part being when we teach them how to use creative engagement with the person they care for and during the most challenging parts of their caregiving process.

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First!

Time and time again we have seen that when they fill their cup first, they have the energy to engage and be inspired into curiosity of what the person they care for may have to teach them!

Here are some powerful examples:

Support for a Nurse

After a nurse in a hospital took part in our program, “The Joy of Creative Engagement” and explored the power of music in her own life, she then had an experience applying it to a person with Alzheimers she cared for.

Showering and bathing a person with dementia always appears top on a list of some of the most challenging and anxiety provoking times and tasks for caregivers.

Beginning with a memory of her own deep emotional connection to music, this nurse not only invited her patient to bathe using music engagement, playing music throughout the process but she also connected with the person in the process, which changed the dreaded activity from a battle to a true invitation and was also more fun in the process.

This does not happen overnight, it takes willingness and practice. It starts with setting up music engagement sessions with the person you care for and making it a part of your daily routine, the way food, medicine and hygiene are.

Family Caregiver Support

In another wonderful example, a family caregiver who took our program was taking care of her husband. She realized they had fallen into a pattern of only doing things together that were the mundane tasks and only using television as the “relaxation” activity.

Putting on the television with your person is passive and definitely not creative engagement. Let’s just say that “watching television”, while it can serve a purpose at times in your caregiving day, giving you time to get tasks done, should not be a substitute for creative activities and engagement.

This caregiver started playing music her husband loved and sitting with him, being with him in this precious time they had together. She then brought out drums for him to play with, as he had been a drummer in his life. She could see that he was enjoying this way of being together with her.

Her feedback to us, was about being able to see that the reason she did not do this type of engagement with her husband previously, was that she felt too tired and burned out. This reinforces that when caregivers utilize creative engagement for their own self care, their own thinking about the care they give, changes for the better!

A Healthy Focus

In our program, our focus is on music and story telling. I encourage you to integrate whatever kind of creative arts engagement resonates most with you and allow yourself some creative time to play, express emotions and your imagination.

You then might see the possibility of bringing those you care for into this possibility with you.

We also welcome you to reach out to us about participating in our programs.

Stories Love Music on Dementia MapIlyana Kadushin
Founder/Executive Director
Program Director
Stories Love Music

Ilyana Kadushin is the Founder and Executive Director of Stories Love Music, a non-profit organization which offers caregivers self-care ideas and new tools to apply to their caregiving.

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