CSU music therapy and gerontology student is improving the lives of older adults

Oak Ridge resident watches Negata perform

Yuka Nagata performs traditional Korean song “Saranghae” for resident from Korea. “…the resident told Nagata she was emotional because it reminded her of all the things she misses in her hometown.”

It’s ten minutes until 2 p.m. on a Friday. The residents at Oak Ridge, an assisted living facility in Fort Collins, are excited to hear Yuka Nagata’s musical performance. They have been getting to know her over the course of the summer, and some have requested special songs for Nagata to perform.

Guitar case in focus with Nagata tuning guitar in background
Nagata tunes guitar before performance at Oak Ridge.

Nagata is a Colorado State University student majoring in music therapy and minoring in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies Gerontology Interdisciplinary Minor program.

This summer, she interned with Sound Affects Music. During her internship, Nagata was given opportunities to perform, converse with residents, and learn from other musical performers at various long-term care facilities in Fort Collins.

Nagata tunes her guitar, tests her piano, and sings a few notes. This is her opportunity to sing requested songs to a larger group as well as socialize and engage with the residents. The benefits of this musical performance include socialization, relaxation, and enjoyment.

“As a music therapy student, this opportunity has helped me build my confidence in performance as well as being engaging and communicative with this population,” said Nagata. “I enjoy seeing the smiles on the residents’ faces, especially after such an isolating time during the pandemic the previous year.”

Throughout her hour-long performance, Nagata had residents smiling and singing along. One of the songs she performed was “Saranghae,” a transitional Korean song meaning “I love you.” This song was requested by a resident who had lived in Korea. The resident sang along with Nagata with tears in her eyes, clapping loudly at the close of the song. After the performance, the resident told Nagata she was emotional because it reminded her of all the things she misses in her hometown.

“Music is such a universal language,” said Nagata. “It has been a delight to see we can all connect through music.”

Residents listen to Negata's musical performance

Residents at Oak Ridge attend Nagata’s musical performance.

Serving our aging population through music

Specializing in adult development and aging for the Department of HDFS, Assistant Professor Allyson Brothers worked with Nagata to set her up with a summer internship at Sound Affects Music, meeting her various passions and studies.

Negata sings and plays piano
Nagata sings and plays piano for residents at Oak Ridge.

Through her internship, Nagata utilized both her major and minor to make a difference in the lives of our aging community. In addition to the performances and communications with the residents, Nagata was also given leadership opportunities, helping organize and contact facility activity directors in a project where Sound Affects Music will be providing music supplies to long-term care facilities. Her internship came to a positive close with her performance for the Oak Ridge residents this August.

When reflecting on her favorite moments, Nagata thinks back to a time she sang for a memory care unit. One resident sat front row and sang and harmonized every word to the songs Nagata sang. After the performance, Nagata was inspired to speak to the resident. Nagata approached her, thanked her, and asked her for her name. The resident looked at her with a smile, but her speech was illiterate. A staff member informed Nagata that she has difficulty with speech but can sing.

“All of the case studies I read in music therapy class came into reality,” said Nagata. “I learned that music performance and encouraging the residents to sing along can activate speech, which can be beneficial for those with dementia to maintain the speech area of the brain as well as stimulate memories.”

Sound Affects Music

Sound Affects Music is a non-profit organization founded by Hanna Doreen Brown, which connects professional musicians with older adults living in long-term care facilities or at home in order to help people access music they love. These music performances help build community within the facilities Sound Affects Music has served. Audiences join the performances to relax, socialize, and to have a good time.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.