Hali Diecidue, Senior Staff Chaplain at Hebrew SeniorLife, has a simple motto, ‘serve G-d with joy.’ That motto has lead Diecidue to add a unique introduction to her Friday nondenominational Sabbath service.
With the help of a guitar, Chaplain Diecidue leads patients, staff, and volunteers through a lively selection of some of their favorite pop and spiritual songs. Chaplain Diecidue is joined on stage by Jana Galvin and Jenna O'Brien, trained recreational therapists who lead patients through therapeutic hand motions and dance moves, allowing them to participate and feel connected.
Diecidue starts every service with a crowd pleaser that quickly gets everyone’s attention. “I usually start with bye-bye blackbird. It is a song they all know, and although it isn’t spiritual, it is somewhat repetitive, and many people sing along.”
Diecidue says she has seen the services have a particular impact among memory care patients. “We have patients who, in the unit, consistently have trouble focusing and can become restless, but once the music starts they calm down and even start to sing.”
This is not a coincidence, says Regina Dain, Music Therapist at Hebrew SeniorLife. “Music has the unique ability to bypass cognition. Patients who may not be able to form sentences can recognize tunes and remember lyrics in their entirety,” she explains. Music is the perfect outlet for those with Alzheimer's or dementia because it can help to shift feelings from negative to positive, reduce stress, and create positive interactions. Because music requires less mental processing, it serves as the perfect activity for someone who is suffering from reduced cognitive functioning to remain engaged and stimulated.
Diecidue recognizes that her unconventional Friday service may have cognitive benefits as well as spiritual, but for her, creating a cheerful atmosphere is most important. “I always say, ‘serve with joy,’ and to me, there is nothing more joyful than a room full of people of all ages and all religious backgrounds singing together.”