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, neurologic music therapy, Parkinson's Disease, Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation

Top 5 from 1965

Based on Billboard Top 100, we’ve selected our top 5 recommendations for songs from 1965 that can be used for Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation with Parkinson’s.


1. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’

by The Righteous Brothers

BPM: 99, Length of song: 2:46


2. Downtown

by Petual Clark

BPM: 99, Length of song: 3:00

The_Fabs3.  Help!

by The Beatles

BPM: 97, Length of song: 2:47

images-1King of the Road

by Roger Miller

BPM: 83, Length of song: 2:42

imgres-1The Birds and the Bees

by Jewel Akens

BPM: 97, Length of Song: 3:01

Do you know of more songs from 1965 that we should add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

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music therapy

Guest Blog by Emily Murer: 10 Ways to Improve Your Health Through Music

10 Ways to improve your health through music
2013-01-26 Murer
by Emily Murer, MS, MT-BC    neurologic music therapist

1. Name That Tune
This fun game can be played with 2 or more  people. You can use a piano, guitar, CDs/CD player, or even your own voice! One person hums/plays a song and the other person (or people) try to guess what it is. Make sure to sing the whole song after you figure out what it is for extra neural benefits!

2. Sweat to the Beat
Think exercise has to be boring? No way! Even the most tedious exercises are much more fun when you set them to music—plus, your brain will entrain to the rhythm, pushing your heart and muscles to work at a faster pace. Smart move!


3. Learn to Play an Instrument
Have you heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”?
Well, good news: the same does NOT apply to humans! Recent studies suggest the human brain is capable of learning “new tricks” well into older adulthood. In fact, taking on a challenge like learning to play an instrument will help keep your brain healthy, enhancing parts of the brain controlling memory, auditory processing, and motor skills. You may not make it to Carnegie Hall, but you will certainly enjoy neural benefits.

4. Already Play an Instrument? Keep Practicing! Research suggests that musicians benefit from their studies with an increased memory capacity, enhanced coordinator, better mathematical abilities, improved reading and comprehension skills sharpened concentration, reduced stress, a healthy respiratory system, and superior visual-spatial skills. But guess what? Like so many other things in life, if you don’t use it, you lose it! So keep practicing your accordion (if that’s your thing) to keep your mind sharp and healthy.

5. Sing a Song
You don’t have to be Pavarotti to enjoy the physical benefits of singing. Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress. Regular singing also improves the quality and volume of the speaking voice for persons with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. So the next time you feel like breaking into song, do it!

6. Join a Choir
The physical benefits of singing are enhanced by the social and emotional benefits of joining a group of like-minded people when you join a choir. Several choirs in the Portland/Vancouver area are geared specifically towards persons with Parkinson’s disease or person’s with early stage Alzheimer’s and associated dementia. Don’t want to travel? Start a group at your home!

7. Practice Active Listening
The neural benefits of listening to music are multiplied when you get your other senses involved! Try looking at photos related to the music, moving a scarf in time to the music, or smelling a favorite perfume as you listen. If you don’t have anything readily available, you can always engage your brain by clapping, singing, or moving along with the music.


8. Relive Happy Times
Sit down with a friend and listen to some of your favorite music together. Relax and share stories about the memories you have related to this music. Reminiscence not only builds friendships, but also stimulates the hippocampus, the part of your brain which handles long-term storage (not to mention the stress-busting hormones that will be released when you share a happy memory)!

9. Twist & Shout
Research suggests that active listening with upbeat dance music increases the levels of antibodies in your body, so put on your blue suede shoes, crank up that music, and boogie your way to a stronger immune system!

10. Feeling Anxious? Hum
Humming a catchy, upbeat tune engages your prefrontal cortex, a part of your brain involved in anxiety. If your brain is distracted by your humming, it doesn’t have a chance to make you worry!

547113_10100431245846973_1206267672_nEmily Murer is the owner of Heart & Soles Dance Instruction & Music Therapy Services and Creative Clinical Support Services. She is a Master’s level board-certified music therapist with additional training in neurologic music therapy. Not only is she incredibly creative and talented, but she is also a good friend. Thank you for the guest blog, Emily!