Program brings music playlists to seniors to combat social isolation and loneliness

Julian Powell has been making some special deliveries to long-term care homes in Toronto.

“We’re dropping off iPads with personalized playlists for residents of St. George Care Community,” he told CTV News Toronto. “They have put in requests with us for music that is personal and meaningful to them, and we’ve put together a unique playlist loaded onto tablets.”

It’s part of a program Powell founded called Music Share. The goal is to help socially-isolated seniors, who might be feeling lonely, enjoy songs from their past.

“We’re trying to provide something that’s going to connect people back to their memories, connect people back to their loved ones, in a safe and effective way,” Powell said.

Under normal circumstances, youth volunteers would visit the homes and engage in conversations about music with elders.

“As a result of COVID, we are not able to bring our volunteers into the home right now,” Powell explained. “So, what we’ve been doing is creating the playlist ourselves and dropping off the materials so that the staff can deliver it to the residents.”

Music Share was created through the Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University – an incubator that supports start-ups that are about fixing a social issue.

“Senior isolation is a huge growing public health problem,” saod Alex Gill, Director of the Social Ventures Zone. “We thought isolation was bad before COVID, it’s even worse now.”

Gill says Music Share is a great example of the type of organization that has a social problem at its core.

“Julian said, ‘what can I do that will make a meaningful impact on this’?” Gill told CTV News Toronto. “There are still people who are working every day trying to make the world a better place, and Music Share is an example of that.”

Recently, Music Share teamed up with another Social Ventures Zone entrepreneur who founded The Good Tee, an ethical clothing company. They currently have a campaign called ‘The Good Gen,’ where people can purchase a mask from The Good Tee to help support Music Share’s programming.

“It’s very rare to see two entrepreneurs who should be focused just on building their business look at each other and say, ‘can we help each other’?” said Gill.

For Powell, another rewarding part of Music Share’s customized playlists has been bringing seniors culture music in their ‘native tongue.’

“People who speak maybe Farsi or Portuguese, it might be the first time in a while that they’ve heard their language spoken,” he says. “That’s really powerful.”

Powell says getting to see the seniors’ reactions to songs they love – in person, and now over video, has been rewarding.

“It feels great to be able to do something that is meaningful,” he added. “I don’t really consider myself doing anything extraordinary or anything special, I just saw a need that I thought needed to be filled and I wanted to be the one to make a difference there.”