Forest Hill volunteer’s guitar playing working wonders for residents with dementia

Gerry Armstrong (centre) is seen here performing for Forest Hill residents alongside Andrew McWeeny (right) and Pat Hennessy (left).

Gerry Armstrong (centre) is seen here performing for Forest Hill residents alongside Andrew McWeeny (right) and Pat Hennessy (left).

Gerry Armstrong began playing for his wife, Becky. Then other residents started showing up in the room

Music is a huge part of Gerry and Becky Armstrong’s lives. The couple performed in a six-piece musical combo for many years. When Becky, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, moved into Forest Hill in 2013, Gerry started bringing his guitar in for Becky because she always loved listening to him play.

“Every day I would play my guitar and sing for her,” Gerry tells The OMNIway. “I noticed that when I did, she would perk up and smile. Some songs she could remember the words to and she would start moving her lips. And I noticed the positive benefit of me continuing to play music for her.”

Even Gerry is surprised at what happened next.

“I gradually noticed that some of the other residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia were either wheeling their wheelchairs into her room or walking in – they loved the music,” he says.

Gerry continued to play for Becky and other residents, many with cognitive impairment, continued to come into the room to listen. Seeing how happy his guitar playing and soft singing was making residents feel, Gerry decided to “expand.”

First, Gerry and Becky went into a common area on the floor where Becky lived. They picked a spot and Gerry started playing.

The residents came.

“As people heard the music, more and more of them started to gather around,” Gerry says.

In late 2014, Gerry began going to different floors in the five-storey home, sitting with Becky in common areas and playing his guitar softly. As always, the residents came to listen.

“I started getting the same reaction – people were gathering around and asking if I knew different songs,” Gerry says. “I was getting an amazing feeling in my own heart because they were craving (the music).”

Gerry plays a variety of music for residents. Residents particularly enjoy pop music from the 1960s and 1970s, Gerry says. Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Eagles are fan favourites, he adds.

And the music seems to bring those with cognitive impairment back to a different time.

“I have even seen people who I thought were nonverbal start singing the chorus when I start playing Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

– More to come

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