Music Therapy with Older Adults

At this stage of life, many people are experiencing health difficulties, which may include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Stroke, Heart Disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Arthritis, Diabetes, or other chronic illnesses. Music Therapy techniques can help restore motor functioning, cognitive functioning, or speech/language skills that are affected by these conditions. Here are some examples of music therapy benefits with older adults.

Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) is a Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) technique that can be used for gait training. Research shows that RAS can improve velocity, stride length, heel strike, and arm swing during walking rehabilitation. (If you’d like to find some of the research, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.) In RAS, the music therapist who has NMT training assesses the gait of the client and does some calculations to determine the tempo, or speed, at which the client is walking. Then she plays some music at that tempo with a strong embedded rhythm during the gait training. Once entrainment occurs, the tempo can be adjusted to increase or decrease the walking speed. Entrainment is when the pattern of walking matches the beat of the music.

Music is stored and processed in several places in the brain, so when brain damage occurs with stroke or Alzheimer’s, many music-processing areas are still intact. This is why someone who does not speak or interact much due to Alzheimer’s is able to sing entire songs. So music as therapy can be used to maintain quality of life for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s and allow them to have meaningful interactions with family, participate in social events, or receive cognitive stimulation.

The way that music is stored in the brain is also the reason that a person who has aphasia (a language processing disorder) following a stroke may be able to sing familiar songs, which can be used to rehabilitate functional speech.

If you’d like more information on how music therapy may help you or your loved one, contact me.