Benefits of Music in Long-Term Care

Music is part of life. Whether you realize it or not, it is around you every moment of your day. Life without music is impossible to imagine.

So where does music fit into long-term care?

First, lets look at the science of music. Music affects us physically, emotionally and behaviorally. It impacts our breathing and heart rate. Music has been proven to help increase dopamine, therefore being a powerful tool in assisting with depression. Furthermore, music therapists have evidence that it can be used to reduce agitation, pain management and sleep disorders.

And that is just the start.

Recent breakthroughs in imaging technology are now giving way to the use of MRI analysis, which allows the measurement of blood flow through the brain in real-time. So, neurologists and neuroscientist can actually monitor the impact of different types of music on the brain. This provides even more evidence of that music should be used in conjunction with traditional medicine.

Dr. Connie Tomaino from the Institute of Music and Neurological Function in the Bronx, New York, will tell you that after 32 years of research, she knows that that music has power and if done correctly, can dramatically change lives.

She speaks of residents with all types of issues with whom her team has made incredible impacts in the quality of their lives through music. And just look at the research (and movies) that have come from her colleague, Dr. Oliver Sacks, who has amazing documented cases of music working when nothing else would.

So where does music fit into long-term care?

First of all, it requires taking music seriously, as therapy. Yes, music is entertaining. However, it can also be therapeutic. As an industry, long-term care has to embrace music as a standard part of the care plan, just as it has other new concepts.

Secondly, it requires more education about music and its uses/benefits. Given the prevalence of music in society, it is understandable why many think of music as a jukebox and/or background noise. It certainly can be, but it most certainly can also be so much more.

The evaluation process should begin at admission when we go through painstaking detail with residents, family members and the medical community to record and document every detail of someones life. We want their medical history, allergies, food preferences, current medication plan, historical evaluations, etc

However, with a handful of exceptions, Ive not seen many ask about music. Although a music assessment can be thorough too, even the most basic information would help you get started, like: What music inspires you? What are your favorite songs and artists? What was your song at your wedding?

So, then how do we put music to use?

One quick example would be to create groups of people with similar music interests. Think of genres to start such as Jazz or Country and then create activities for them around that music. You can also use that information to build a list of programs specific for that individual. So, if they were to become upset, depressed or in pain, their music programs could be brought into the process as a tool to assist caregivers.

How do I get started?

Step 1 Go Digital!

If you currently use CDs around your community, fantastic, you are ahead of the game. However, stop buying them! They simply end up lost or scratched.Instead, buy digital music and convert all of your existing CDs to digital files. That way, you own your music forever.

Step 2 Hire a Music Therapist (even for a day!)

There are 5,000 Board Certified Music Therapists in the United States. They understand music and can train your staff on how to use music therapeutically throughout your community. And most importantly, they can teach you how NOT to use music. Music selection, programs, time of day and delivery can be very disruptive if done incorrectly.

Step 3 Get Portable

The advent of the MP3 player has created the opportunity to bring music where it is needed most.directly to the one in needs. These gadgets are cheap,portable and work very sufficiently for basic delivery needs.

Step 4 Test & Commit

Like any change, especially one around person-centered care, it requires commitment from the top. To help with this, take the initiative to use music first in lieu of other traditional types of intervention. It will not take long and you will quickly see that something as simple as delivering the right music at the right time has both qualitative and quantitative results.