Music Therapy and Common Illness in Nursing Homes

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Music therapy can help all types of people; it does not only apply to those who like to listen to music. Music therapy is a practice performed by a certified professional who uses music and music interventions in order to achieve goals and objectives that are specific to a person. They can work with physical, social, communicative, emotional, and also cognitive issues within a wide range of populations. Clients go through assessments designed and led by credentialed music therapists to determine what types of interventions might work best with specifics clients (AMTA). Music therapy and psychology often intertwine because of how much music impacts different areas within the brain. Music therapy uses music as a therapeutic way to address multiple skills in a group or within an individual person.

The nursing home setting is one place where both music therapy and psychology come together. This population includes people with a broad range of disabilities and disorders, which includes depression, decline in cognitive abilities, and physical issues. Nursing homes offer therapies such as recreational, occupation, speech, physical, and music therapy. They offer specialized medical care and everything a person could need in a hospital setting without actually being in a hospital. Nursing homes are often times mistaken for assisted living facilities, but there is a difference. In assisted living facilities, residents only need help with select things while they still attain their independence, while those in nursing homes need a much higher level of care, including special medical attention. Often residents of nursing homes are there because they no longer have the ability to care for themselves or have a need for special medical attention they cannot receive in their home setting. This would include using the restroom due to physical or bladder issues, bathing, or getting around in general.

Nursing homes often offer programs such as music therapy for the residents to voluntarily go to. Music therapy has been found to help improve speech, cognitive, physical, and social skills, and to reduce stress. Behavioral issues, such as, agitation or aggression have been found to occur in at least one third of nursing home populations (Krauss, & Altman, 1996). Many studies have also shown that it has reduced blood pressure, anxiety, and has even calmed clients in a nursing home setting that are facing stressful situations (Aging and Mental Health, 2015). Music therapy helps to increase the mobility and cognitive skills that have declined over the years.

As people grow older so do their brains. The brain peaks at its optimal efficiency around the age of 21-25, around the same time people usually attend college. After the peak of the brain’s processing, the brain begins to slow over time the less it is used for more complex tasks. Cognitive abilities, such as attention and reaction time, begin to diminish, and memory is affected as well. After retirement the brain is not stimulated in the same manner as it used to be. Everyday work activities helped to keep the brain sharp and running smoothly. These are common things to expect with the aging brain though. As the brain ages, regions that were once functioning at high levels may be reduced, causing memory and communication issues. This happens to even healthy brains, not just those with mental illnesses, but it has been found through research that the brain still remains plastic later in life (How The Aging Brain Affects Thinking, 2017).

Memory is not the only cognitive issue the elderly face though. Often times, residents have mobility issues, meaning they have the need for wheelchairs, walkers, or a nursing assistant to help them get around the facility. Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s, gait problems, and restless leg syndrome are all also issues that those living in nursing homes may face (Krauss & Altman, 1996). These disorders may make picking up items, playing instruments, and everyday tasks more difficult, which is why the aids at a nursing home are needed.

Physical disabilities, like memory issues, are not the only problems those in nursing homes face. Heart disease, hypertension, and arthritis are all issues that they might have to deal with. Diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s occur more often in people over the age of 65 (Howieson, 2015).

Depression is also an issue that can be seen in many nursing homes. Depression has been found to be one of the most common mental diseases among the elderly in nursing homes, only after dementia. Depression can be caused by many different factors. Some may be losing contact with family members, the loss of their dependence, or the realization of where they are in their lifespan (Werner, Wosch, & Gold, 2017). They often feel isolated in these places that are not actually their homes. This isolation and depression may cause some residents to act out and be disruptive or resistant to receiving their medical attention. Many studies have been done to determine the effects that music therapy has on those who suffer from depression in nursing homes.

Dysarthria is also a common neurological issue that many older people face. It affects the muscles involved in speech production. It can be caused by a stroke, muscular dystrophy, and even Parkinson’s disease. Even though this effects people of all ages, it is common in mostly older adults and the elderly. It causes speech to be slowed, sometimes slurred, and also drooling in some cases. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). There is not a cure for this, but there are methods to help, such as working on strength in the muscles located in the tongue and jaw, slowing down the speech, slowing breathing, and by using other ways to communicate, like gestures or writing. Speech therapies and also interventions used in music therapies can help lessen the effects of this neurological disorder.

Most studies try to determine the effects of music therapy through singing interventions and group music therapy interventions. Group therapy has been found to reduce symptoms brought on by depression (Aging and Mental Health, 2015). Nursing home residents are usually more familiar with older folk songs and some traditional instruments. It has been found through research that music from younger years in life that can be associated with major life events, such as, marriage, education, becoming a parent, or losing a loved one, and can engage people more in the music therapy process (Kimmel, 2012). This helps work on memory loss issues brought on by mental illness or just old age. This is something music therapists have to be careful with though. Some clients may get frustrated with the fact that they cannot always remember the words to songs that were once so familiar to them. There are many interventions that can be used for the elderly. Drumming interventions are commonly used for the elderly to promote the use of movement. Drumming also helps to reduce stressed and helps to relax breathing patterns. Interventions with drumming can also be used to improve the ability to cross midline by having a client hit a drum on one side with the opposite hand.  

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Music Therapy And Common Illness In Nursing Homes. (2021, Apr 05). Retrieved March 2, 2024 , from

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