NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — It may have been a “silent dance party,” but the room was far from quiet at Commonwealth Senior Living’s Leigh Hall on a Tuesday as the residents clapped and sang along to “My Girl” by The Temptations.
“I guess you’d say / What can make me feel this way?”
They swayed and clung to each other in rhythm. Some in wheelchairs joined in with their arms. Others simply smiled and nodded.
If you weren’t wearing headphones, you’d be forgiven for being puzzled. No music was playing from any speaker system.
Instead, it was projected directly through headphones specially designed for senior citizens with hearing loss.
Commonwealth Senior Living held the event, dubbed “Dancing through the Decades,” as part of its partnership with Eversound, a technology company that makes the headphones.
“Ultimately our goal is to end social isolation,” said Alyssa Gagliardi, Eversound’s director of community engagement.
The technology is not too different from your average set of headphones, Gagliardi said, but their shape, size and weight are “designed with older adults in mind.” They also do a better job of blocking out background noise.
The headphones can be used not just for the occasional dance party but for other activities as well – to better hear guides on bus tours or instructors during physical therapy.
The dance event was the first of its kind at the senior center, with dozens of residents from the company’s various Hampton Roads locations bused over to Leigh Hall.
Each group was assigned a decade, from the 1920s to ’70s, and staff wore corresponding costumes such as flapper and polka dot dresses and, of course, Elvis Presley. The music then went through each decade, featuring tunes like “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.
“I really didn’t know what I was coming to,” said 86-year-old Geraldine Harrison, who lives at Commonwealth’s Kings Grant House, with a laugh. “I had my hair done this morning.”
Harrison said she’s never been much of a dancer, but enjoyed observing the festivities. When the time came, she slid out her hearing aids and put on the black set of headphones.
“I’ve just been thinking, I want a man!” said Carol Ann, 77.
Bernie Cavis, Commonwealth’s regional vice president, said it’s been “fascinating” to see how a little boost from the headphones can make the residents much more social.
Hearing loss “can lead to physical limitations. From a behavioral perspective, I think it adds to irritability and frustration. They get anxious when they can’t hear.”
Hearing aids don’t always work well, she added. “These are cooler.”
Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic conditions in older people, according to the National Council on the Aging.
Those that go untreated are more likely to report sadness and depression, anxiety, emotional turmoil and less social activity, according to a report from the council. Getting help with hearing leads seniors to be more involved in their neighborhoods and organized social activities.
“We have to continue to think out of the box in fixing things that can help our elders,” Cavis said. “Technology is more and more coming into our world in elder care, and we should be open to embracing it.”
Jay White, 88, was sporting a white paper diner hat, red sweater and cane. He said he was happier being able to hear the music clearly.
“I do an awful lot of this,” he said, nodding his head to the beat.
Trish Bryant, resident care director at Kings Grant, said she thinks “it’s bringing back memories when they put these on.”