Music to their ears; music therapy helps residents with healing, socialization and achieving goals in skilled nursing facilities

In a single moment, the first notes of a song can instantly transport us back to an earlier time in life. Music can evoke powerful emotions, cherished memories, and inspire people to achieve their goals. Historical and archeological finds have established that music is common across all cultures dating back many, many generations.

Music therapy has been growing in recent years as many people are learning about the benefits of music in schools, skilled nursing centers (SNFs), assisted living centers, community groups, and other social situations. It provides opportunities for socialization, connections, and creative outlets for people across all age groups.
In SNFs, there are a variety of ways music is used to motivate, inspire, entertain, and build socialization with residents. Additionally, some research is shows that music can provide benefits and relief to those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The two types of music therapy are active and receptive. Active music therapy, as the name implies, is a type of therapy that residents can participate in and may involve drum circles, playing simple instruments, singing, and even dancing. This type of therapy also doesn’t mean the resident need musical talent or experience; anyone can participate.

Receptive music therapy is when residents spend time for mindful listening to music. Mindful listening may include specially curated music that is live or recorded and has the resident focusing on the music playing with little or no other distractions. The choices for music often are reflective of a resident’s generation, culture, personal experiences, and other preferences unique to that resident.

There are mental and physical benefits to music therapy. The perfect music might be encouraging a resident to become more physically active. Being more physically active can help with cardiovascular health, muscle strengthening, flexibility, and balance. Music may also redirect a person’s attention away from pain as they progress in their rehabilitation.

Playing and listening to music can improve respiratory health, ease anxiety and tension and overall impact a person’s quality of life, which are a couple of ways music helps with an individual’s mental health. Depression can be a challenge many seniors face because of isolation. Group musical activities allows for SNF residents to socialize with others and enjoy the physical and mental benefits of music.

Not only can music help with depression, reducing stress and elevating moods, but research is also showing that music can help people deal with feelings of anxiety and coping with trauma.

There are links between music and treating people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Music and memory are intrinsically linked and as we go through life certain musical pieces of songs can link people with Alzheimer’s Disease with their past and memories. People suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease may have trouble communicating, and music may provide a method for them to express themselves. While this is certainly not a cure for the disease that affects 6 million people in the United States, music can help to improve the quality of life for them.

There are many ways SNFs can incorporate music into their centers for the benefit of the residents, families, and employees. First, you don’t need professional musicians or even a certified musical therapist.

“As we age, we forget many things. Where we put our keys, the name of a place, a time something took place or even the name of a person. Music though, we never seem to forget the music. When the music starts something stirs in their souls. You see their bodies move, their hands in rhythm with the beat, you watch their eyes light up,” said Dawn Burks, Activities Director for the Brian Center Alleghany in Low Moor, Va.

“My favorite thing to watch is when the music starts, those who are nonverbal begin uttering the words to the song and start to sing along with the music. Many things fail us as we age, music does not. Music transforms us and takes us back to a time where a memory was made. Music is a part of our souls and watching the soul awaken through exercise and music is a beautiful thing to be a part of,” Burks continued.

To build socialization and community connections, SNF leaders can invite local musicians into the center to perform. Activity departments can incorporate music into their activities by asking residents to participate in drum circles with yoga exercise balls, bells and chimes, or other simple musical instruments.

Music during therapy can also result in more focused work and inspiration while recovering from an illness or injury.

“We use our television in the gym to provide positive stimulation for our residents. We try to create a personalized environment as we let residents choose which genre or era of music they would like to listen to that day. We try to let everyone get a chance to pick so it also helps us learn about our residents as well as we venture into different generations,” said Megan Cleary, Director of Rehab at Bland Nursing & Rehab. “Music creates an environment where patients can relate to one another, and it frequently sparks conversations. I have heard patients reminisce and relate to songs as being a song they danced to at a prom or a dancing function as a young adult.”

Even without a music therapy program there are many ways music can be brought into the SNF setting. The benefits to the residents can be numerous both physically and mentally, help develop social connections, and inspire healing.

Author: Brandon Totten, Digital Media Coordinator
Kissito Healthcare