Music Therapy with Older Adults
Approximately 15% of music therapists work with individuals living in nursing homes or other geriatric facilities. And 29% of music therapists work with mature adults and senior citizens. Historically, the aged has been one of the more common groups that music therapists have worked with. This makes sense, given that the U.S. population is getting older and they have more demanding healthcare needs than younger individuals.
If you walk into a nursing home during a music therapy session you may see what can only be described as amazing. Individuals who cannot remember loved ones, life long friends, or their place of birth, singing along with the music therapist. How is this possible? Why is it that they can remember nothing but words to a silly song? This phenomenon is by far one of the most amazing benefits of music therapy in the treatment of individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. By some coincidence, the area of the brain that is responsible for remembering music is one of the last areas that is touched by Alzheimer’s disease and advanced forms of dementia. The fact that the elder still listen and enjoy music is why it used so frequently with the elderly.
According to the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, dementia is a term that describes changes in the brain. Common symptoms of dementia are repeating questions, become lost in familiar places, having trouble following directions, and becoming disoriented about the time, people, and places. Sometimes people who are experiencing dementia forget to take care of their daily living activities, such as bathing, brushing their teeth, and eating. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia.1 Scientists think approximately 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
The use of music therapy in the treatment and rehabilitation of adults with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has shown promising results. Common music therapy goals for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include improvements in mood, reminiscence and quality of life, and reductions in anxiety. Specific research results indicate that music therapy is useful for decreasing agitation and wandering in individuals with more advanced dementia and AD. Additionally, music therapy interventions can benefit caregivers in terms of increasing socialization, decreasing depression and sense of burden.
Stroke/Parkinson’s Disease and Physical Rehabilitation
Stroke patients and patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease are often involved in rehabilitation programs to help either rehabilitate or maintain levels of cognitive and physical functioning. Music therapy has become an integral part of rehabilitation programs, partly due to the benefits shown by researchers at Colorado State University.2 Music therapists, physical therapists and researchers at the Center for Biomedical Research in Music have been studying the benefits of music, specifically rhythm, on gait in Parkinson’s disease and stroke patients with amazing results. Gait training involves assisting patients relearning how to walk evenly, walking longer distances, and become stronger physically. This helps in reducing injuries from falls leading to more independence and a better quality of life.
Additionally, music therapy is useful in speech rehabilitation. Stroke patients have been able to relearn how to speak by singing useful phrases before they speak them. Singing has also been useful in helping Parkinson’s patients speak more clearly as their disease advances.3 Stroke patients also benefit from an intervention called “Melodic Intonation Therapy” to relearn useful phrases, which helps these patients state their needs and wishes.4 This particular treatment is most successful for individuals with expressive aphasia.
3 Haneishi E. Effects of a music therapy voice protocol on speech intelligibility, vocal acoustic measures, and mood of individuals with Parkinson's disease. J Music Ther. Winter 2001;38:273-290.
4 Sparks R, Helm N, & Albert M. Aphasia rehabilitation resulting from melodic intonation therapy. Cortex. 1974;10:303-316.