LeadingAge Magazine · May-June 2018 • Volume 08 • Number 03

Body and Mind Benefit From Music Therapy Program

May 16, 2018 | by Beth Johnson

This provider’s music therapy program brings physical, social and attitudinal benefits to residents and rehabilitation patients.

While most residents in aging services communities have heard of or experienced firsthand the benefits of physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy, they may not be as familiar with music therapy.

At the 2 Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministry communities in Madison, WI, Melissa Cole runs the music therapy program.

Oakwood Village photo 1
Music therapist Melissa Cole interacts with residents at Oakwood Village
University Woods.

“In a nutshell, I use music to help people,” Cole explains. “Music is a great tool. It taps emotions, connects us to other people, brings memories of childhood to life, helps us to move, helps to coordinate and time our movements. It can relax us and help us sleep. It can distract us from pain. Music therapy is used to stimulate social engagement, energize physical movement and activate many, many areas of the brain simultaneously for a healthy cognitive workout.”

Music therapy is an evidence-based health profession with a strong research foundation, and its practitioners have knowledge in psychology, medicine and music. Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of the American Music Therapy Association’s (AMTA) 72 approved colleges and universities, including 1,200 hours of clinical training. The Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) grants a MT-BC credential.

In the United States, about 7,500 music therapists hold an MT-BC credential like Cole, and practice in a program of recertification designed to measure or enhance competence in the profession of music therapy.

Cole leads 2 group classes at Oakwood Village, “Refresh and Relax” and “Fun Facts and Relax.” She says that although music therapists who work with rehab residents traditionally work one-on-one, she created these group sessions because rehab residents are so busy with rehab appointments, meals, personal care, and family and friend visits.

“It is difficult to find time to see them,” Cole says. “[These sessions] are a way for me to meet their needs in their timeline.”

Refresh and Relax

Refresh and Relax helps residents return to a baseline faster after their physical therapy, by letting go of tension and coming to a resting state more quickly. “Refresh and Relax helps lower their ‘arousal’ period so they can recover more quickly and are ready to take on more of what new stressors will come next,” says Cole.

Oakwood Village photo 2
Group music therapy sessions have been adopted to make
attendance easier for seniors with busy schedules. Photo
courtesy of Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries.

She uses several music therapy principles—entrainment and the iso principle—during the class. Both target how the body reacts physiologically and emotionally to music.

Entrainment is the practice of training one’s brainwaves to a desired external rhythm. A simple way to think about entrainment is when 2 people on a busy sidewalk are walking near each other, often you will see them synchronize their steps, so they are walking at the same pace, without even realizing it.

The iso principle is applied by matching the current state of the client and then progressively changing the music to shift the resident’s mood or physiological response.

Refresh and Relax, which Cole has taught for about a year at Oakwood Village’s Health and Rehabilitation Center, helps residents come to a clear mind so they can refocus. The first few minutes of the class are greetings and rating individual stress levels. The latter part of the class is listening to music. Participants are not allowed to talk or clap until the music is done. After the music stops, participants talk about how the music affected them and re-evaluate their stress level. Session goals include slowing down heart rate, breathing deeper, and relaxing, “so when there is more work to be done, a resident is ready to go.”

Cole reflects, “Sometimes [the techniques we use in a session] can work on people in 10 minutes, which is amazing to me how quickly and effectively it works.”

Fun Facts and Relax

Cole created the session, “Fun Facts and Relax,” at the end of 2017 for residents with dementia who have a high fall risk due to poor safety awareness. The 30-minute class begins with music, a biography and videos from a well-known artist. As a class progresses, the iso principle is applied and the music gets slower and softer to bring residents to a more restful state. In a recent session Cole noticed a resident who was constantly standing up. “Soon after the class started she was engaging with peers and the music and didn’t stand up the entire class.”

Cole is hoping the effects of the class have a carryover so that after the class ends, residents are more settled and less likely to stand up and risk falling. One of the reasons she created Fun Facts and Relax is because “Every nursing home I have worked at the past 20 years has been focused on falls.”

After a recent Music Therapy session, Cole says, “there were a lot of things from a music therapist standpoint that you may not have noticed unless pointed out to you. Some of what was going on during the session included controlling the tempo to avoid agitation … we are trained to watch for the signs of engagement, agitation, and relaxation.”

Editor’s note: Music therapy is not recognized in all states, nor is it licensed in all states. State recognition is, according to AMTA, “the first step towards successful inclusion within health and education regulations, which allows improved access to employment opportunities and increased access to reimbursement and state funding streams, such as private insurance, Medicaid waivers and special education.” Music therapy advocates have succeeded in gaining professional licensing regulations in some, but not all, states.

Beth Johnson is a marketing representative at the Oakwood Village University Woods Campus, Madison, WI.