The beauty of music is that music itself is inherently therapeutic. When I see that facilities have any sort of performance or music activity it brings me joy, because everyone deserves access to music. However, I’ve noticed that music therapy can maximize the benefits of music to a greater extent than any performer, because of the intentional use of music. Assisted living, independent living, and memory care units all have different needs, and performers don’t necessarily realize that. Some general areas that I’ve noticed music therapy is especially helpful include: combating isolation, maintaining/improving cognitive skills, and inspiring movement for the residents.
Unfortunately, isolation is a problem I’ve seen many times throughout my work with seniors. This is not necessarily the fault of the home and is merely a byproduct of growing older. It can be tough for family members to find time to visit, their peer group dwindles in size, and declining physical/mental health makes it harder to go out and actively seek new friends. This is when music therapy can come in handy. Even though there are plenty of opportunities for seniors to interact throughout the facility, music therapy can specifically target these feelings of loneliness and turn it into feelings of community and inclusion. This can look like hand-over-hand assistance in playing an instrument together or a drum circle where everyone gets a voice. The beauty of music therapy is that it’s adaptable for all populations, so everyone (regardless of ability) is able to get the attention they need and deserve.
Music therapy can stimulate reminiscence in seniors, which can be especially beneficial for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Everyone has some sort of connection with music, and relate it with a certain place, time, emotion, or memory in their life. Music can be the trigger to facilitate memory, conversation, and feelings of community. I’ve seen faces light up when they recognize a favorite song from their childhood, and I’ve even witnessed clients who had previously been non-verbal actually sing or hum along to the tune. Some other ways I’ve worked on cognitive skills include rewriting songs such as “12 Days of Christmas” to include their favorite winter activities when they were children, prompting individuals to finish song lyrics from memory, and using color-coordinated handbells to play through familiar songs.
Music and Movement
Moving your body is important for our health throughout our entire lives, but it can be harder to incorporate as we get older. Music can be just the motivation we need to get our bodies going. Just the small action of hitting a drum or waving a scarf to the beat of a song can help promote mobility. Even those in wheelchairs can participate, as music therapy is easily adaptable to everyone’s ability. We can do seated arm/leg movement, hit a drum in different locations to work on arm mobility, and of course, just get up and dance!
These are just a few ways that music therapy has been useful when working with seniors. There are so many other areas music therapy can work on.
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