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Woodbury Senior Living therapists see positive results

Music therapist Angela Johnson plays guitar during a therapy session for Woodbury Senior Living residents. Courtesy photo by Woodbury Senior Living1 / 2
Integrative Therapist Amy Quarberg gives a foot message to a Woodbury Senior Living resident. Courtesy photo by Woodbury Senior Living2 / 2

Over the past few years, Woodbury Senior Living has been adding several holistic and traditional therapy options with the greater goal of helping to improve residents' lives.

Located at the intersection of Lake Road and Woodlane Drive, the assisted living facility offers music and holistic therapies to accompany traditional physical rehabilitation.

Though separate fields, staff at the facility said the therapies often work together, but the greater public doesn't always know how they work.

When people discover Michaela Helms is a music therapist, they sometimes assume her job is to play and perform songs for entertainment.

It's much more than that, she said. In fact, it's not even close.

While she and other therapists have had to brush up on everything from old American patriotic songs and hymns to Tom Waits and Beatles tunes, the choice of music is often deliberate.

That's because it plays a therapeutic role during sessions by triggering memories and thoughts from residents' younger years, and it can spur physical movement and promotes positive brain function.

"They light up," said Erin Heidemann, a music therapist at Woodbury Senior Living.

She said residents with severe forms of dementia are able to sing along even if the disease has diminished their ability to speak.

"It kind of brings out the soul that's being trapped in by the disease," said music therapist Angela Johnson. "Music therapy is about activating the person within, especially when dementia is closing (them) down."

The therapy sessions typically range from 20 minutes to an hour. Music therapists at Woodbury Senior Living also give group sessions as well individual therapies.

The therapist often starts by reading the energy in the room. For example, if patients are relaxed, Heidemann will strum softly on her harp, eventually bringing up the intensity of her playing in waves until she reaches the desired effect.

Woodbury Senior Living has also upped its focus on holistic therapies, such as massage, healing touch and use of essential oils, among methods.

Integrative Health and Wellness Director Rachel Trelstad said residents sometimes become anxious when transitioning to assisted living from independent living. Anxiety can also worsen in residents with chronic conditions, such as pain and grief, she said.

The therapies can help lower anxiety and other negative ailments without the use of pharmaceutical drugs, Rachel Trelstad said.

Integrative Therapist Amy Quarberg has been tracking how residents feel before and after sessions. The results, she said, indicate that therapeutic sessions have a notable effect on people's anxiety or stress levels.

"You can see some pretty dramatic changes in people," she said. "I think we're able to successfully show it does make a difference in people's experiences."

That track record also saw Quarberg and Trelstad share their results at an international symposium in Tucson, Ariz. last week when they presented the successes they've had with treating Woodbury Senior Living residents.

The facility has also put a focus on traditional rehabilitation care as well for treating residents who have chronic pain or have trouble swallowing, which can impact someone's speech.

Trouble balancing is a frequent issue Woodbury Senior Living's Rehabilitation Director Matt Marcellus sees in residents.

A diminished ability to balance can sometimes be dangerous because it leads to heightened risk of a resident falling, he said.

To reduce these risks, Marcellus and other specialists try to restore physical functions that have been lost due from a surgery, for example. But if a person's physical ability doesn't return, he'll look at possible alternatives, such as encouraging the use of a walker or wheelchair.

"Whether it's helping soothe anxiety or pain through integrative therapy, all of us are trying to improve that respective individual's quality of life," he said. "That's a huge umbrella that all of us collectively fall under."