Intergenerational music therapy at Cortland Acres connects young and old

Board certified Music Therapist and owner of Milestones & Music, Patricia Allison leads the intergenerational music therapy group.

By Cary Sonaugle

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

It’s not often you start an article with a quote from the Greek philosopher Plato, but his sentiments regarding music and its benefits are evident at Cortland Acres when youngsters from the Mountain Laurel Learning Cooperative (MLLC) join Cortland residents in a bi-monthly music therapy session.

Led by board-certified Music Therapist and owner of Milestones & Music, Patricia Allison, the hour-long sessions include lots of singing and moving, opportunity for creativity and self-expression, and of course socialization and friendship between the generations.

“It’s amazing to me to see how quickly the students and residents have formed relationships”, says Allison. “Even the second time coming in, the students were asking if their favorite resident would be there. By our third session, when we were learning sign language for our Christmas song, you could see the two groups coming together to try and help each other and make sure they were doing their signs correctly.”

So, twice a month, a group of exuberant 3 to 6-year olds from the MLLC make their way to music class on Cortland’s DayBreak wing with their parents in tow. Ready to enjoy a light afternoon snack and release pent-up energy through scripted music play, the children greet their Cortland “grandfriends” with enthusiasm.

Each session starts with an introductory “Hello” song so the group can get to acknowledge one another individually. This creates a great opportunity to building new relationships. Next is often some type of movement intervention, which is an important component in both generations, though for different reasons. Teamwork exercises are also important and can range from instrument play to passing games. Paired versions of these activities also allow for students to have more interpersonal time with the residents. And finally, work has begun on music for the Christmas concert at Cortland, where students and residents will be performing a few songs together. This provides a chance for the group to work towards a common goal.

Scanning the crowd of parents throughout the session, you see broad smiles and lots of hand clapping; and staff members stop periodically to take in the scene. As the class winds down and comes to its final song, you glance at the crowd of parents again and grin as many mimic the sign language motions of the final song.

“What I find beneficial about the music program, explains Mountain Laurel Learning Cooperative Director Casey King, “is how the program has introduced our children to an entirely new group of people and guided them through positive interactions with the residents at Cortland. The children see the normal aging process, learn to accept people with disabilities, and become part of an extended family.”

According to Michael Detmer, MME, MT-BC and Petra Kern, Ph.D., MT-BC, DMtG, “both children and older adults involved in intergenerational activities demonstrate improved attitudes toward, and interaction with the opposite age group.” In addition, music therapy and its ability to increase physical activity among mature adults have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression, reduce aggressiveness and anxiety, reduce blood pressure and improve cognitive function.

The intergenerational music therapy group at Cortland Acres includes singing and moving, an opportunity for creativity and self-expression, and friendship between generations.

 “Intergenerational music therapy is a relatively new concept but gaining in popularity,” explains Director of Development Dan Bucher. “With only a handful of facilities offering music therapy in the United States, primarily in the mid-west and the central states, Cortland Acres is the first to offer this ground-breaking program in West Virginia. We call this program “music therapy”. The teachers and parents of the children from Mountain Laurel Learning Cooperative call it “music class”. But all you have to do is take one look around the room on Monday afternoon to see what this is really all about…pure joy.”

Earlier this year, Cortland laid out its vision for the future – Vision 2030 – which included the creation of an “age friendly” community through innovative services and programs that would provide mutual benefit to the very young and not so young. As highlighted in the corporate logo, “the nature of care” is a top priority at Cortland and in-grained in the very fabric of its existence. As many skilled nursing facilities struggle to becomes more resident-centric as mandated by government regulations, Cortland Acres leads the way with unique and innovative programs like music therapy and offers a more compassionate and holistic approach to senior living. The principles of respect, positive engagement, individuality, and the ability to make choices are crucial to more resident-focused care.

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ― Billy Joel

Cortland Acres is a non-profit corporation offering state-of-the-art nursing care and skilled rehabilitation on a spacious 35-acre campus is the heart of scenic Tucker County, West Virginia. The Cortland campus includes a 94-bed long-term care facility, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation and therapy options, as well as a variety of independent living opportunities. For more information call 304-463-4181 or visit

Helping people age in healthy, affordable, and meaningful ways.