Music can be one of the last memories to fade as we age, providing a link to our past and an important way to engage with the present.
At 83, Rose Klooger has lived at a Melbourne nursing home for nine months. Until recently when she has been able to spend some time in a high-backed ‘princess’ chair, she has been mostly bedbound – a situation which has contributed to her feelings of isolation and anxiety. Although she has a loving and involved family who share a roster of regular visits, Rose’s transition from her own home to a nursing home has not been an easy one for her. Nursing staff report Rose often becomes distressed and miserable when she is alone.
Even when she has neem unwell and experienced confusion and memory loss, Rose’s ability to remember songs has remained intact. In her weekly sessions with Rose, Calvary Health Care Bethlehem music therapist, Eleanor McNab, says she is continually surprised at the extensive library of songs that Rose holds in her memory.
“Her connection with music is so important to Rose”, says Eleanor. “It’s been a big part of her life and she’s always loved to sing. While she many have lost a lot of her other abilities, she still gets a lot of enjoyment from the fact that she can still sing and remember so many songs. I see that in older people all the time.
“Rose likes old time songs and knows a lot of tunes ranging from about 1900 up to 1950. Often I will read out song titles from a book of 1001 old songs and and she will start singing them as soon as she hears the title and knows many more of them than I do! She invariably remembers most of the words. Sometimes she’ll start to sing something that is unfamiliar to me so I’ll go away and make sure I know it for next time.”
Eleanor’s sessions with Rose involve singing familiar songs and sharing thoughts and memories associated with the music.
As anyone who sings or plays a musical instrument will tell you, making music, especially with others, is great for the mind, body and soul. And the benefits flow whether you are an accomplished musician or an enthusiastic amateur. In music therapy trained health professionals – registered music therapists – draw on the benefits of music to help people of all ages and abilities to attain and maintain good health and wellbeing. Music therapists work in a range of places including hospitals, nursing homes, schools and the community, delivering tailor-made programs to meet specific needs.
Music therapy can play an important role in the care of older people. Indeed, many of the 400+ registered music therapists in Australia work in aged care settings. Collaborating with their colleagues such as doctors, nurses and social workers, music therapists use their clinical and musical skills to support aged clients and their families, helping improve quality of life through physical, social, emotional and spiritual health.
Common methods used by music therapists in aged care include playing live and/or recorded music, facilitating song choice, active music making and improvisation, and ‘musical life review’ where patients and/or their loved ones make compilation CDs of music meaningful to them. The therapist may also use a special technique in which music is improvised to match and slow a patient’s breathing rate, to help reduce anxiety and lessen the need for medication. Music and guided imagery relaxation techniques can be used to reduce pain and anxiety.
Republished courtesy of the Australian Music Therapy Association