Music therapists use music to achieve non-musical goals with a variety of populations. There are many ways in which music therapy can enhance the lives of older adults. Because almost everyone enjoys music and it activates so many parts of the brain, a music therapist is able to address many goals and objectives in ways that feel fun and motivating for the participants. Whether in a group or individual setting, a music therapist uses client-preferred music as much as possible. Some of the most common goals we address are related to speech, fine and gross motor movement, cognition, emotional expression, reality orientation, and social engagement.
What Can One Expect From A Music Therapist?
When individualized music experiences are designed by a professionally trained music therapist to fit functional abilities and needs, responses may be immediate and readily apparent. Participants without a music background can benefit from music therapy. Music therapy provides opportunities for:
- Memory recall which contributes to reminiscence and satisfaction with life
- Positive changes in mood and emotional states
- A sense of control over life through successful experiences
- Awareness of self and environment which accompanies increased attention to music
- Anxiety and stress reduction for older adult and caregiver
- Nonpharmacological management of pain and discomfort
- Stimulation which provokes interest even when no other approach is effective
- A structure which promotes rhythmic and continuous movement or vocal fluency as an adjunct to physical rehabilitation
- Emotional intimacy when spouses and families share creative music experiences Social interaction with caregivers and families (Source: American Music Therapy Association, 2006)
Here are some examples of how music therapy can help older adults:
Dementia/Alzheimer’s: By using familiar songs, we’re often able to orient clients to the present moment, spark memories, and facilitate singing and movement. We’re able to create opportunities for interaction with fellow residents, family members, and staff. Research shows that music supports the maintenance of memory organization and thought processing. As dementia or Alzheimer’s disease progresses and individuals lose their ability to speak, they may still able to sing favorite songs or hum. Music therapy can be an effective modality for older adults to help maintain and slow the regression of speech and language skills in the areas of expressive and receptive communication, choice-making, oral motor, sequencing, motor planning, answering questions, phonemic awareness, speech intelligibility and patterns of language.
Parkinson’s Disease: Rhythm-based exercises paired with words can enhance speech intelligibility for the stroke patient or person with Parkinson’s disease. Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) can support gait training and enhance movement.
Angie Kopshy, MM, MT-BC, is a board-certified music therapist and founder of Big Sky Music Therapy. Upon completion of her Master’s in Music from Boise State University, Angie returned to Portland to study music therapy. Before moving to Montana, her work included a private practice that incorporated neurologic music therapy techniques, the supervision of practicum students and interns and a teaching position at Pacific University. Angie is also a singer/songwriter with the band, Stoneface Honey.