Music Therapy and Older Adults
The recognition of the effects of music on people living with Alzheimer’s/Dementia is becoming increasingly more recognized. What a lot of people do not know is that there are certified health professionals out there that are trained to use music in a therapeutic context. These professionals are called Music Therapists. They must obtain a 4-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, acquire 1200 clinical hours within those four years, along with a 6-month internship post bachelor’s coursework. After graduating from their internship, they are allowed to sit for their board’s exam and become MT-BC (Music Therapist Board Certified). The definition of music therapy according to the American Music Therapy Association is as follows:
Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication, and provide unique opportunities for interaction. Research in music therapy supports the effectiveness of interventions in many areas such as facilitating movement and overall physical rehabilitation, increasing motivation to engage in treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and creating an outlet for expression of feelings. Because music therapy is a powerful and non-threatening medium, unique outcomes are possible (www.musictherapy.org).
Among older adults, research has proven that music therapy can help reduce current symptoms and prolong the digression process. Using old familiar tunes that are stored in the long term memory is beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s/Dementia. With this in mind, music therapists use preferred music to help encourage conversation about memories associated with particular preferred music. Not only does this technique help maintain current cognitive functioning but it also increases quality of life.
People often ask the question “Why is my loved one not able to talk in fluid sentences but can sing a song without skipping a word?” In your brain you have a section that activates language, another for motor, another for vision, another for speech and so on. Studies have shown that music activates multiple areas simultaneously. This activation allows for multiple pathways to be made and it allows for them to access those long term memories from a multitude of different pathways. So when you hear a song from your past you can process it not only aurally (by listening) but sometimes emotionally through reminiscing on a specific time and on the occasion smell.
If you want to learn about the effects of music therapy on older adults or other populations, information is available on my website at www.coachellavalleymusictherapy.com or through the American Music Therapy Association website at www.musictherapy.org.