Inspīr Welcomes Music Therapist Benjamin Pernick to the Team

BY: 

INSPĪR SENIOR LIVING TEAM

When we say Inspīr is more than a name, we mean it. The lifestyle we curate for our residents is made possible through the diverse talent and expertise of our dedicated employees. Every member of our team commits to The Ī Oath. That is, making a promise to him- or herself to deliver an inspirational level of service and care for our residents every day.

We look to our Nine Core Elements as the foundation for delivering that inspirational level of service and care and identify the people and partnerships that can bring the elements to life. 

With Art + Music as one of our core elements, it is infused into our environments and regularly used as therapeutic tools. As a universal language, art and music are used to create common connections among residents, stimulate minds, and unlock memories. When it comes to our memory care residents, we know the appreciation of music is one of the last things to go, so we use this tool to the fullest.

In January, we introduced our Associate Director of Resident Experience and Art Therapist, Amanda Clears, in a blog post. Now we would like to introduce Benjamin Pernick, Resident Experience Coordinator and Music Therapist. We sat down with Ben recently at the SkyPark to hear about what influenced him to pursue this role and what kind of experiences he’ll be offering our residents. 

Tell us about your background, experience, education, and what led you to this role at Inspīr.

I always have had dual passions in music and psychology, which ultimately led me to Berkley College of Music, where I received my Music Therapist Board Certification. I built on this foundational knowledge with real-world experience working as a music therapist in senior living facilities for the past eight years. This helped me expand my repertoire as well as my clinical and interpersonal skills. Still, I realized that my desire to maximize the quality of life for seniors could only be fully met by aligning myself with an innovative organization that shares these values. This led me to my role at Inspīr, where I will be continuing to create elevated experiences and share this knowledge with our outstanding Experience Team. 

Explain why music is so beneficial for seniors, specifically for those with Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related illness.

Music is exceptional in its ability to simultaneously activate several regions in both sides of the brain, allowing people to connect memory, emotions, speech, and movement in powerful ways. For people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, this global brain processing of music gives the brain a greater ability to bypass some of the damaged areas and function more efficiently in terms of movement, memory, and sense of belonging. In this way, music can be used as a tool, helping seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia-related illness achieve a wide range of non-musical wellness goals. Clinical use of music also allows for a better understanding of the person and their relationship to music, so the music therapist can make choices that would be most advantageous to them. This helps people more freely express themselves and engage in meaningful interactions.

Walk us through the music therapy programs we’ll be offering residents.

One of the music therapy experiences we’ll be leading for residents is Memories Through Music, a reminiscence discussion group guided by the thematic content of familiar music and associations with the songs and singers. Residents can choose their preferred music, and we encourage them to sing along or play along with a rhythm instrument. Active engagement with the music helps prime long-term memory and other associations. We supplement this with captivating multimedia presentations and challenging trivia questions on the music and the content. When I lead this program, I adjust the song selection, discussion themes, and conversational style based on the participants’ abilities, preferences, and goals to ensure it is optimal for the group’s brain health while also creating a sense of belonging and accomplishment.

Another popular program is Group Songwriting, in which I guide residents into choosing a theme and brainstorming ideas based on their preferences. We then use these ideas to narrow down our options for rhymes collaboratively to build a song piece by piece. When I lead this group, I also encourage group input on the musical elements of the song, such as key, tempo, and rhythm. The experience concludes with the group’s choice of a group discussion of the experience of a live performance of the song. The residents can keep a lyric sheet or recording as a reminder of the song they helped create.

Are there any experiences that have influenced your path? Why seniors? Why music therapy?

When I was in high school and living with my late grandmother, who experienced worsening dementia, I witnessed how she often would become agitated and confused in the evening. However, when my mom would play my grandmother’s favorite Yiddish songs from her youth, she would start singing and “come alive.” Not only did this help reduce her sundowning symptoms, but it also brought her great joy at that moment. She would laugh, sing her other favorite songs word for word, and she would often share detailed stories of her childhood in Poland. This helped improve my relationship with my late grandmother, and it also showed me a glimpse of the transformative power of music with seniors. Since then, I have always found an ability to form strong emotional bonds quite naturally with seniors. I am always fascinated to learn about their lifetime of rich and unique experiences. I’m grateful that I have learned the skills to utilize music to help them reconnect with a sense of fulfillment, creativity, and joy.

Music is a powerful way to influence people of all ages. While it is an effective therapy tool for those with both cognitive and physical limitations, it can also be effective for pain management, mental health, crisis, or trauma. It also makes a difference for medical patients, helping with respiration, headaches, cardiac conditions, and diabetes. As it uses sensory stimulation, it can often provide help for those who are resistant to therapies, plus it encourages movement, evokes memories, and generally has a positive impact. At Inspīr, music therapy is just one way for us to help residents live a vibrant and meaningful life.