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Posted: August 30, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Music to a Caregiver's Ears, Therapy for the Elderly

I remember the Lawrence Welk shows. I remember them as a child (wishing I was on the show), but also as an adult watching them with Mom and Dad during the last years of their lives.

Dad couldn't carry a tune and was never interested in listening to music until his last years. Mom always liked music. Dad sat there with a very pleasant expression on his face, completely captivated. Mom hummed, tapped her foot and directed the music with her hands.

No matter what had happened that day, they both relaxed and enjoyed that hour of television. As a matter of fact, so did I.

At that time, I didn't realize how music can be used to help the elderly with their physical and psychological health as well as cognitive and social functioning. All I knew was that Dad insisted on watching Lawrence Welk, so I made sure they did.

If I would have known then what I do now, I would have bought music tapes to play at various times for them. Perhaps my parents' lives could have been more relaxed and they could have been happier.

The American Music Therapy Association website has this to say about the therapeutic benefits of music with older people:

?Music therapy is efficacious (effective) and valid with older persons who have functional deficits in physical, psychological, cognitive or social functioning. Research results and clinical experiences attest to the viability of music therapy even in those who are resistive to other treatment approaches. Music is a form of sensory stimulation, which provokes responses due to the familiarity, predictability, and feelings of security associated with it.?

Just exactly what is music therapy and who administers the therapy, anyway?

Music therapy is the prescribed (yes, by a doctor) use of music to improve or maintain a person's life in the areas of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health. The music therapist can work in most settings -- a hospital, nursing home or a person's home. Music therapy is the mix of music and musical interventions used for people of all ages, and in our context for the elderly and ill.

It can be prescribed by doctors, psychologists, social workers, caseworkers, teachers and parents. The therapist uses their knowledge of music and it's affect on behavior to develop a program for the therapeutic goals of the clients, taking into account their strengths and weaknesses. The client may listen to music, sing, share and discuss songs, reminisce, learn to play an instrument, dance, compose music, and other activities designed to promote social interaction and self-esteem.

Music therapy may help with memory recall, positive changes in mood and emotional states, anxiety and stress reduction for older adults and caregivers, non-medical management of pain and discomfort, social interaction and decreased isolation.

A music therapist is a professional. They will make recommendations based on the individual patient, draw up a written plan and goals, hold regular music therapy sessions, re-evaluate their recommendations and goals on a regular basis, and ?graduate? a client when their services are no longer necessary. A music therapist will charge only for those services they directly provide and nothing else.

But, as a caregiver, you need to know what you're looking for in a therapist.

Legitimate music therapists receive their training from colleges and universities before they are eligible to take a certification exam. Recognized professional designations listed with the National Music Therapy Registry are:

  • Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC), indicating entry level skills in the profession,
  • Registered Music Therapist (RMT),
  • Certified Music Therapist (CMT), and
  • Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT)

A person who does not have the proper training and credentials is not qualified to provide music therapy services. Keep that in mind.

The federal government has recognized music therapy as an effective health service for older adults. Medicare coverage for music therapy is available in partial hospitalization programs. Medicaid coverage for music therapy varies from state to state. In addition, some private insurance companies reimburse for music therapy services on a case-by-case basis. You should, of course, consult with a music therapist in your area to discuss payment options.

For more information or to find a music therapist in your area, contact the American Music Therapy Association at its website or:

8455 Colesville Road, Suite 1000

Silver Spring , Maryland 20910 , USA

Phone: (301) 589-3300

Fax: (301) 589-5175

E-mail: info@musictherapy.org

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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