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Ball State students sing in virtual nursing home visits

MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH) – While most nursing homes are closed to visitors of any kind, a class of Ball State University students are still getting in and singing for residents through custom online videos. 

Michael Gerhard, associate professor of telecommunications at Ball State, has conducted a project using music to improve the lives of residents in area nursing care facilities for a decade. He is part of the nonprofit Music & Memory, that focuses on bringing music to the elderly and studying its impact on residents. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering senior living facilities to visitors including family members, Gerhard decided some of the students in his Telecommunications 101 class could still help him make the visits virtually. 

“The students created videos, ranging from one to four minutes, in which they offer some encouraging words and sing to a nursing home resident,” Gerhard said in a press story published by Ball State. “They also incorporated a whiteboard and other visuals, including pets. Residents love little kids, animals and music.”

The website currently offers links to nine videos with songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” They’re intended for Bethel Pointe Health and Rehabilitation Center residents, but the site also acknowledges that any resident currently on lockdown could enjoy the videos. 

“Hey guys, how are you doing?” chirps one student in her video. “Hang on, I have somebody I want you to meet. This is my puppy! His name is Harley. He’s like my best friend.” 
The student holds her small white dog up to the camera before singing “You Are My Sunshine” for listeners. 

Inside the nursing home, a nurse typically shares the videos by bringing around a tablet computer to residents in each isolated room, according to the Ball State press

“I also wanted to give my TCOM 101 students a chance to do something positive to help others during the pandemic,” said Gerhard. “So, I offered them extra credit to create short videos. Service to others is always a great idea, but volunteering is especially important during a national emergency.“

Gerhard plans to expand the new project during the course of the pandemic, adding a few dozen videos during the next few weeks.

“We believe that personalized digital music can greatly enhance the quality of life for many nursing home residents, especially those with cognitive disorders,” he said. “We also strive to build awareness for our cause and engage in effective fundraising.”