SMU music therapy students host sessions for seniors at Presbyterian Village North

SMU Meadows music therapy students are leading weekly sessions at a senior living center.

SMU students offer music therapy at Presbyterian Village North

DALLAS (SMU) — This spring semester, SMU Meadows students studying music therapy are partnering with Presbyterian Village North (PVN), a senior living community in Dallas, to lead weekly sessions as part of degree requirements that they get firsthand experience with seniors. 

The students lead sessions on Wednesdays with residents living in memory care. Students are making assessments of the attendees, setting goals, writing treatment plans, and working through their plans. Mary Ann Hyde, a PVN resident and a board member for the Meadows School of Arts, initiated the development of the partnership.

“I feel that music has the ability to touch the heart and soul, evoking powerful responses from the mind and body,” said Hyde. “My husband and I always felt strongly about the importance of education, and I am so excited that PVN and SMU have the opportunity to partner together to educate students and provide beneficial services to seniors. I was talking with Dean Sam Holland, who oversees the Meadows School of the Arts, when he mentioned this program. He put me in touch with Dr. Robert Krout, head of the music therapy department, and we set about bringing the partnership to fruition. We are so grateful that they have chosen our campus to partner with and help enrich the lives of the residents.”

Each group is comprised of 10 to 15 residents, and they meet for an hour each week. This part of the students’ curriculum is based on requirements of fulfilling 1200 clinical hours, 180 of which are done in school, the rest of which are completed through an internship at the end of their coursework.

Students in their fourth semester start work on their gerontology rotation. When the students and residents meet, the therapy session begins by having everyone sit in a circle. Then, leaders will begin a “hello” song to help everyone get to know each other. Throughout the course of the session, leaders will work through music therapy interventions that address goals that pertain to range of motion or physical endurance, cognitive or memory skills, self-expression or emotional wellness, problem solving, fine motor skills and socialization. The group then concludes with a “goodbye” song for closure.

“We are studying the effect music has on physiology and neurology, as well as how we can use it to encourage the changes we wish to see,” said Janice Lindstrom, adjunct lecturer of music therapy and clinical supervisor for SMU. “We ask attendees what music they enjoy listening to, and if they cannot speak, we look up music that was popular when they were in their 20s, as this is the time frame that tends to be more meaningful for them. Getting residents to actively make music has the greatest effect, and this is what we use to elicit responses during our therapies. When we begin the session, participants tend to become more alert; there is more engagement and increased socialization on an interpersonal level. While we cannot reverse the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, we can create a space in which meaningful interactions and connections take place.”

Recently, Lindstrom began the meeting with the song “K-K-K-Katy,” sung by a man who has a stutter. First they sang the original lyrics, and then took turns putting the participants’ names in the song. This exercise helped residents remember the starting letter sound for the name of the person they were singing about. This led to better name recognition, and it helped attendees make eye contact with the person whom they were singing about. 

The therapy sessions are focused on creating meaningful interactions in that moment. Most of the students do not have regular interactions with older adults, so this part of their curriculum helps them to see that seniors are just like them, they just have a few more experiences.  

“Music is one of the first things we hear from the time we are an infant, and it grows with us as we grow, changing with the seasons of our lives,” said Jennifer Runnels, director of nursing for PVN. “It is intended to be comforting and to establish connections. Seniors participating in music therapy become more alert because the songs are familiar to them. People who usually sit and do not do much or talk much will awaken and begin to light up with expressions, subtle head shaking, finger-snapping or humming. We are so happy to see the SMU students working with residents here at PVN. It is heartwarming. This is wonderful experience for the students, especially those who have not been around many seniors. They are getting firsthand experience in a community that cares about its residents greatly. They can see the difference we are making together.”

SMU students offer music therapy at Presbyterian Village North
(Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Village North)

Presbyterian Village North is in the process of implementing additional music programming, and plans to develop additional music therapy sessions in the future with the expansion of its memory care units. Currently, the community brings in many entertainers who perform songs from the genres these generations of seniors grew up listening to, and the seniors themselves have iPods that contain playlists that have been individualized for each resident’s listening pleasure. 

The iPod program and some of the entertainers are funded by the PVN Foundation whose mission is to enrich the lives of residents. Throughout the week, PVN staff notices a big reduction in disruptive or moody behavior when music therapy is implemented, and because of the positive energy they can reduce medications given to residents in memory care. The music simply improves their overall quality of life.


Presbyterian Village North, a Presbyterian Communities and Services community, is a faith-based nonprofit continuing care retirement community for active adults aged 62 or older offering independent living, assisted living, short-stay rehab services, skilled nursing and certified memory care. Nestled among 63 acres of wildflower gardens and putting greens in North Dallas, independent living residents may choose from executive homes, patio homes or garden apartments. Assisted living residents enjoy private apartments, and private and shared suites are offered for licensed nursing care, rehabilitation therapy, memory care and hospice care. Amenities include an 1,800 square-foot wellness center, computer center, billiards room, salon, meeting rooms, woodshop, library, business center, sewing center, pottery and craft center, fulltime chaplain and weekly worship services and a 250-seat performing arts center. In 2011, Presbyterian Village North opened the nation’s most innovative therapy pool, the HydroWorx 3500, with underwater treadmill, gait monitoring and massage jets, as part of its comprehensive wellness program. The retirement community was named one of the nation’s best for 2013, 2014 and 2015 by U.S. News & World Report and Medicare, which ranks it 5 star. For more information, please visit


Presbyterian Communities and Services, located in Dallas, is a faith-based nonprofit organization comprised of U.S. News & World Report-recognized continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs)—Grace Presbyterian Village and Presbyterian Village North—and the leading hospice services of Faith Presbyterian Hospice. The organization fulfills its mission of empowering individuals to live their lives to the fullest by providing a standard for excellence, premier training, quality services and compassionate care. With a 79-year shared legacy, Presbyterian Communities and Services was established in 2008 to join the two CCRCs and hospice organization. For additional information, please visit

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