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Music Therapy: An Option in Care For Seniors

I first witnessed the power of music at the age of 14. My grandfather had recently had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak.  He would reside in a long term care facility for the next eight years of life.  Earlier in his life my grandfather spent many hours in his immaculate workshop and very few hours with his grandchildren. After several weeks of what I perceived as obligatory visits to a grandfather I barely knew, my grandmother suggested I learn my grandfather’s favourite song.  I had no idea that my grandfather even liked music.

Over the following week I learned “White Cliffs of Dover.” On Friday night I pulled out my guitar, sat next to my grandfather and began to sing the slow and still unfamiliar lyrics….”There’ll be blue birds over, the White Cliffs of Dover tomorrow just you wait and see.”  During this first stanza unexpected occurrences happened. Residents entered my grandfather’s room, hovered over his bed and mouthed the words I sang. The woman who typically screamed began to sing.  My grandmother smiled and my rather grumpy grandfather began to cry. At the age of 14 I looked around uncomfortably at the unexpected scene. This event coupled with many more miraculous musical moments would spark the beginning of my long and rewarding career as a music therapist.

Today, 30% of JB Music Therapy’s clients are seniors. With many long term care facilities in development to meet societal demand, care options are constantly being assessed for the potential to improve overall health and cost effectiveness.

A multi state, 2 year study* monitored seniors who attended regular music therapy  to research the potential costs savings to agencies and caregivers. The seniors who attended music therapy sessions 3 times per week reported a higher overall rate of physical health, fewer doctors visits, less medication used, and fewer instances of falls compared to the control group.

The study goes on to translate this into dollars…..

If all persons who fall under what is classified as Medicare D  (national health coverage for those aged 65 and older in the US) participated in regular music therapy  – the savings on the US tax payers would equal 6.3 billion dollars.

I have certainly witnessed incredible clinical results.  I have watched seniors increase their level of interest in their environment and those around them. I have observed changes in facial affect indicating a happier outlook on life. I have experienced memories thought long forgotten.  I have heard seniors comment that they were more relaxed and less anxious about the day after only 10 minutes of music therapy.

I learned early on at my grandfather’s bedside that music affects us in many unexpected and fabulous ways. Since then I have learned that music for seniors could potentially be the meaningful, cost effective lifeline that many seniors and their caregivers seek.

*this study from: Gene Cohen, Arts and Health.  Volume 1, Issue 1, March 2009