I visit the Shorefront Nursing Home in Coney Island on Sundays. There are seven floors with a dining room on each floor. There are around fifty residents in a dining room at a time. Residents are wheeled in (they are all wheelchair bound) every morning at 7am to the dining room where they are parked side by side at long plastic tables. They remain in this position until 7pm. It is the same every day. No music is played in the dining room. There are no reading materials; no cards or board games.
Many residents yell out, “I want to die!” and “Get me out of here!” Not once or twice, but over and over again for hours. Residents do not have the option to leave this room. They do not have a choice at which table they are placed. They do not even have the freedom to go to the bathroom when they want. They have to ask someone.
There is a big disconnect between the staff and the residents. Residents are often yelled at by the aides to eat, or to stop trying to stand up or wheel themselves out of the room. The residents yell back that it’s their home, and that they need to go to the bathroom. Other than that there is very little communication between the residents and the staff even though they spend the majority of their days and nights under the same roof. This makes for an unpleasant situation all around.
There is a stereo on every floor with a cd player. I started playing music such as: “40 Hits From the 40’s” Aretha Franklin, and Doo Wop. The change was immediate. The room calmed down. The screaming stopped. Not only that, but the aides and residents started singing along to the music together. Some staff danced with the patients. And the stories from both aides and residents started to flow. They now had something else in common. I have also started doing residents nails, bringing in magazines and being taught by one woman to crochet. These things have made such a difference. Students from every part of the New School could do this and so much more. The jazz students could play music, the drama students could perform. Students could lead painting groups, talk circles, sewing and read out loud. The students could put together a production involving both the staff and the residents to be performed at Shorefront for friends, family, and other staff and residents. The students could also work with the staff to create programs that could continue after the students, have gone. Anyone interested in going into any of the art therapies, counseling, education or who just want to enrich people’s lives with their talents would be able to participate. These are people who feel imprisoned, yet have only committed the crime of getting old. The have built up feelings but no outlet. This could affect over a thousand people’s lives.