Fort Collins Symphony
B Sharp Arts Engagement® Program
The Fort Collins Symphony’s B Sharp Arts Engagement® program is a fine example of a community effort that requires collaboration, communication, and a commitment to creating a dementia-friendly community.
The B Sharp program was founded in 2015 with the purpose of engaging people living with dementia and their care partners in an immersive community musical experience. The idea began when Paul Matthews with Banner Health discussed a Banner Health arts engagement program that took place in Arizona with FCS board president Maury Dobbie and vice president Rhett Strom. Banner Health had just signed on as the Symphony’s season sponsor. It was from that initial brainstorming session that B Sharp was born. Banner and the FCS identified other key partners to involve in the project: Alzheimer’s Association, Larimer County Office on Aging, Colorado State University, and Cyndy Luzinski (who went on to form Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado—now, Dementia Together®).
B Sharp provides 30 people living with dementia and their primary care partner with the opportunity to attend five Fort Collins Symphony performances during the concert season. Pairs are given season tickets so they have the same familiar seats for every concert. Because the tickets are underwritten by members of the community, participants do not need to make a significant financial commitment to attend concerts. In addition, participants attend receptions with fellow community members, and share support at a regular social event. They also agree to participate in a Colorado State University study where a number of factors are explored, including the impact of music on the cognitive ability of participants with dementia, the social connections between the care partner and person with dementia, and the degree to which study participants felt supported by the community.
In order to assess the impact of participation on memory, mood, and attention, participants with dementia are given a cognitive test before and after concerts, as well as the Geriatric Depression Scale and a mood assessment. This cognitive test, called RBANS, is a brief neuropsychological test that assesses current cognitive functioning, improvement, and/or decline. To assess social connection of caregivers, researchers administered surveys, performed social network mapping, and conducted post-concert phone calls, in-depth interviews, and focus groups.
Since the program launched in 2015, the FCS has raised over $100,000 from members of the community to underwrite tickets for participants to attend concerts in person for five seasons and to watch streamed concerts during the pandemic season of 2020-21. The CSU research team–Enriched Environments for the Healthy Aging Brain–has grown from three scientists to include a variety of other researchers with funding from the CSU Office of the Vice President of Research. In addition, the research team has been awarded funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging, and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, and published their results in academic journals.
The program also has fostered several off-shoot programs sponsored by CSU:
*C Sharp, where couples are able to attend to the theater and dance performances.
*Riding in the Moment where participants are able to enjoy grooming or riding horses at the Hearts and Horses Riding Center.
*Gardening in the Moment where participants plant gardens together.
*Melody Lane, where volunteers with Volunteers of American are supported in facilitating virtual and in-person music companionship visits with participants in the community.
*Telomeres Study, where participants’ saliva is collected and analyzed for changes in their telomeres length, a biological indicator of healthy aging.
*Virtual Reality, where participants are able to attend a virtual symphony to determine if that type of offering has a positive impact on those who are no longer able to attend in-person concerts.
Dementia Together® (formerly Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado) was founded in 2016 with the expectation of creating communities where “living well with dementia” is the expectation, not the exception. They offer life enrichment activities like B Sharp (where the program is officially housed) and Memory Cafes. The organization sponsors support groups and provides resources to informal care partners. They also provide training to local businesses and health care professionals.
During the 2020-21 pandemic, the FCS continued to reach out to B Sharp and Dementia Together® participants. During the month of June 2020, musicians from the Fort Collins Symphony presented 20-minute programs via Zoom as part of Dementia Together’s Virtual Variety Shows. The FCS was the only professional orchestra in the nation to give a live, in-person concert on the 4th of July at the Holiday Twin Drive-In where everyone was masked and socially distanced. Several B Sharp participants attended this outdoor concert and one later in the summer at the Gardens on Spring Creek. During the fall and winter months, the FCS recorded and streamed concerts and provided free tickets to B Sharp couples. Although research was suspended during this time, the FCS is in the process of meeting with CSU and B Sharp partners to determine what is feasible for the upcoming season.
About the VR recording of a FCS performance:
Right before pandemic silenced most live performances, the FCS and CSU partnered to produce a recording using Virtual Reality technology. Under the direction of Maestro Wes Kenney, the Fort Collins Symphony performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 5, in C minor, Op 67 on February 20, 2020. This titan of symphonies was recorded at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center in a 360-degree format that allows viewers to scroll around the stage for an inside view of the orchestra.
The interactive experience was recorded by Anton Pinkerton in coordination with Colorado State University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the Virtual Reality Team, and the Enriched Environments for Healthy Aging Research Team.
Right now, seven million Americans and an estimated 73,000 Coloradans are living with dementia. Roughly one-third of the American work force is serving in care giving roles. When the Fort Collins Symphony began the B Sharp program, the main goal was to give participants a night out where they could enjoy the beauty of music in a safe and comfortable setting. Measuring the actual impact that attending concerts would have on those living with dementia and their care providers was a critical component of the project. As it turned out, by engaging CSU faculty and students in the project, B Sharp is showing just how important non-pharmacological community-based arts programming interventions are for reducing cognitive decline and improving the quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers.
COGNITIVE FUNCTION (MOOD, MEMORY, AND ATTENTION) OF PARTICIPANTS IMPROVED:
Caregivers identified a number of positive changes in their loved ones after participating in the program, including improved alertness, engagement, and mood in comparison to other activities done together. Most importantly, there was a significant difference between the pre-and-post-intervention RBANS assessment, suggesting that overall cognition IMPROVED over the course of the 9-month B Sharp intervention. For a disease associated with progressive cognitive decline, the margin of improvement was exciting and hopeful.
INTERACTIONS BETWEEN CARE PARTNER AND THE PERSON WITH DEMENTIA INCREASED MEANING AND CONNECTION:
As people lose their memory, they lose their ability to relate to others and communicate in meaningful ways. By attending the concerts, care partners were able to feel connected to their loved one in a familiar and meaningful way, allowing them to remember the person they fell in love with and reconnect through shared experiences. The concerts resurfaced old memories and allowed new memories to be formed. The concerts became a point of conversation prior to attendance, immediately after, and, for some, continue to be so. Many participants remarked that they turned the concert into a “date night.” It was something to look forward to and it gave both care partners and the person with dementia an opportunity to get dressed up and socialize within the broader Fort Collins community.
CARE PARTNERS SHARED MEANINGFUL INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER CARE PARTNERS:
The diagnosis of dementia changes both the care partner’s relationship with their loved one, as well as their relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. As a result, care partners can become isolated in their role as their loved one progresses through dementia. Receptions before and after the concerts provided an opportunity for care partners to socialize at a community venue. Interacting with others in a similar situation made them feel less isolated and more connected to community.
The receptions created a space where care partners could:
•share experiences, resources, knowledge, and meet others in a similar situation
•feel a sense of normalcy
•build a friendship group and
•feel accepted and supported
PARTICIPANTS FELT AN INCREASED SENSE OF COMMUNITY AND ACCEPTANCE:
Many of the caregivers remarked about the sense of community they felt after participating in the program. At each concert, B Sharp was mentioned in the maestro talk as well as in the printed program. Many felt that this brought awareness to Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, and it illustrated that those with such diseases are able to still participate in social activities. Caregivers also felt supported by the broader Fort Collins community due to the program being locally funded.
“We did a lot of hand holding and smiling during and after the performance. We made eye contact throughout the entire performance and it was like soul traveling.”
“I think we (caregivers) help each other be stronger. Other people sympathize, but nobody really understands until you get with other people that are living it. We have the bond of having a loved one with this horrible disease.”
“The value of programs like B Sharp is that gives you a reason to want to get out that day. It’s something special, something to look forward to. The community awareness was also a big thing I think that the program did. I think it made us feel like people noticed and cared about us.”
Fort Collins Symphony
Fort Collins Lincoln Center, City of Fort Collins
Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter
Colorado State University:
Department of Communication Studies
Department of Occupational Therapy
Department of Psychology
Department of Sociology
Office of the Vice President for Research, the Virtual Reality Team, and the Enriched Environments for Healthy Aging Research Team
Richardson Design Center
School of Music, Theatre and Dance
Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging
International Neuroscience Network Foundation
Larimer County Office on Aging
Visit Fort Collins
Recordings: Alien Theatre Recording, Grant Evenson
Photographer: Tim O’Hara Photography
Photographer: Richard Mauro Ricchiuti, Zebra Jellyfish Photography
Photographer: Nicholas Bardonnay, Westwater Arts
“Symphony Interruptus” Videography: Chris Bell, Advance Media Services
“iCanon” Composed by James David, concept by Charlie Hatchette
Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in 360 recorded by Anton Pinkerton in coordination with Colorado State University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the Virtual Reality Team, and the Enriched Environments for Healthy Aging Research Team.