Think about your favorite song. What comes to mind? Maybe where you were when you first heard it. Or maybe that it helped you through a difficult time in your life or that you listened to it often during an especially happy time. It may just make you feel happy. Scientists have long shown that music has the power to trigger long-forgotten memories. This connection between music, memory and feelings is especially valuable when working with seniors – both those with dementia and without – helping to improve mood, calm negative behaviors and even increase engagement in physical therapy.
Dementia and Music Therapy
Music therapy is defined by the American Music Therapy Association as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Music therapy can help address many types of goals, including emotional, physical, cognitive and social. (https://www.musictherapy.org/about/musictherapy/) For seniors, especially those with dementia and/or living in long-term care, music therapy has many benefits.
For seniors with dementia, music can have an orientating effect that can address behavior concerns. Playing a song that brings back happy memories of their past life can calm and soothe those that are agitated. Many music therapists report seeing a previously unresponsive dementia patient smile or sing-along to a beloved song.
Music Therapy and Long-Term Care
Music is a way for many seniors in long-term care to express feelings. Receptive music therapy includes listening to music that either means a lot to the senior or to try and invoke a mood. It can lead to a conversation about how the song makes them feel and why they are feeling that way.
Many times in group music therapy, instruments are handed out that allow seniors to participate in creating the music. This creates a feeling of community as well as a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Music therapy can work alongside other therapies as well, including speech, occupational and physical therapies. Explains Sarah Biedka, MT-BC, kehillah coordinator at the Abramson Center, “If someone needs to rehab a bicep muscle, for example, I put on a song and hold a tambourine behind them to hit. Many times many patients find this more enjoyable than just doing regular exercises.”
With an experienced, qualified therapist, music therapy can bring so many benefits to seniors in long-term care settings.