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3 Music Therapy Goal Areas for Seniors with Dementia

Music therapists are very familiar with explaining what we do for a living at social gatherings.

"Wow, a Music Therapist! That is so interesting!"

That's a reaction I enjoy getting from new friends. Hopefully, from there I can provide them with a clear explanation of what it is that music therapists do, who we work with, and our training background.

Whenever I begin to speak about my work with seniors with dementia, many people who haven't heard about music therapy before, seem to nod in a general understanding that yes, music would be beneficial for this population. What they may not know, is that as a music therapist, there are specific goals we work towards with our clients and outcomes that we track.

For seniors with dementia, there are many goal areas that can be beneficial. Each individual is different, and has unique needs, and therefore there are a wide variety of goals that can be worked on to improve quality of life.

Here are 3 examples:

1. Social Interaction

Engaging with others and creating meaningful social connections can be key to improving the quality of life for seniors with dementia. Often times, social interaction is lacking and this can be due to many factors. For example, if the individual has just moved into a long-term care facility, and is feeling confused, angry, and perhaps experiencing depression, they may stay in their rooms and refuse to come out for programs, and sometimes even want to eat all of their meals alone in their room.

Most of the time, however, they will allow the person with the guitar, who brings the music they connect with (the music therapist!), into their room. Creating meaningful moments together through music-making can be the first step to achieving their goal of social interaction. These social interactions between therapist and client can occur through interventions including, singing, instrument playing, improvising and songwriting. Eventually, the music therapist may add an objective for the resident to attend group music therapy sessions and interact with peers in that setting. This can be accomplished as therapeutic trust and rapport builds over time. Depending on the level of cognitive functioning amongst the group, the objective of social interaction can be achieved through interacting with peers solely within the music through group improvisation and recreative interventions or through discussion and reminiscence based on emotions emerging from the song content.

2. Non-verbal Expression

For many seniors with dementia, verbal expression can be difficult and often very frustrating. Although they may not find words to express their emotions, these feelings still need an outlet for expression and for validation. Click here for examples of communication difficulties exhibited with those with dementia, and for helpful tips on how to communicate. I believe that the aggressive behaviours and high anxiety often documented among residents in long-term care is likely due to these emotions that lack an outlet for expression.

Music can be the most accessible way for these emotions to be expressed!

Whether this is through playing a variety of instruments such as the drums, piano, xylophone, or through vocal expressions, the music therapist will lead the client through their emotional expression safely and effectively.

3. Connect with Family

This goal extends outside of the individual and includes their family as part of the care plan. This goal area is usually addressed if the family is very active and present in the care of their loved on. For many residents I work with in long-term care, I find that some children frequently visit their parents, however, although they continue to visit and spend time with them, there are times they express feeling frustrated, tired and disconnected. The family likely has memories associated with music, and this is where the music therapist can take the opportunity to create more meaningful memories between their client and family within music making and listening interventions. The music therapist may also help to inform the family members of musical tools they can use on their own to help feel connected to their loved one in those moments of difficulty.

At Miya Music Therapy we work with many older adults with dementia in long-term care, retirement facilities, community centres, and in the comfort of their homes to address a wide range of goal areas. Seeing the profound impact that music therapy can have on their quality of life is very rewarding - and we feel honoured to engage with them on a daily basis.

Do you have questions about how music therapy can positively impact your loved one with dementia? Contact

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