music therapy, music therapy group

Music Therapy with Older Adults

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
Angie Kopshy, MM, MT-BC

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.


music therapy

Research on the cost-effectiveness of music therapy

The American Music Therapy Association has a great document highlighting the research done on the cost-effectiveness of music therapy.  

One study focused specifically on music therapy with home hospice and revealed that patients in the music therapy program yielded a cost benefit ratio of 0.95 per day. The average overall costs for patients in the music therapy program was $3,615 less than those in standard care. Romo, R. & Gifford, L. (2007). A Cost-benefit analysis of music therapy in a home hospice. Nursing Economics, 25(6), 353-358.

A second study showed that for the total expenditure of $57,600, the Florida State University affiliated music therapy/Arts in Medicine protocol in the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital reveal a total outlay for two partners of $17,247, or 70.1% of total savings. Standley, J. & Walworth, D. D. (2005). Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Total Program, in J. Standley (Ed.), Medical Music Therapy, 33-40. Silver Spring, MD: American Music Therapy

And finally, the results of procedural-support music therapy in the healthcare setting showed:

  • the application of music therapy had 100% success rate of eliminating the need for sedation for pediatric patients receiving EEG, and 80.7% success rate for pediatric CT scan without sedation, and a 94.1% success rate for all other procedures.
  • the cost analysis resulted in that the total cost per patient with music therapy was $13.21 and $87.45 for patients without music therapy, which results in a net savings of $74.24
  • the project resulted in saving 184 RN-hours for other duties, which addresses the concern of a nationwide shortage on RNs.

Walworth, D. D. (2005). Procedural-support music therapy in the healthcare setting: a cost-effectiveness analysis. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 20(4), 276-84.

Another report not included on AMTA’s list is that of Pacifier Activated Lullaby (PAL™) technology based on research conducted by Jane Standley, PhD.

Through a 5-year study conducted from 2001-2006 in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, University of Georgia Hospital at Athens, University of North Carolina Medical Center, and Florida Hospital Orlando, the use of PAL™ I (prototype) has shown an average 5 day reduction in the length of stay for NICU infants. This translates into a cost savings of $10,000 ($2,000 day) per infant for the hospital.