The soothing powers of music have been well known for centuries. However, music therapy has only emerged more recently as an element of care for patients suffering from dementia. This style of care is defined by the American Music Therapy Association as the use of music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, or social needs of individuals.
This discipline has been put into practice with great success at United Hebrew of New Rochelle. Mila Levine, director of therapeutic recreation/volunteers, recognizes the true impact that music therapy can have. “It’s really crucial,” she says. “Music is universal; it’s something that everyone responds to.”
This response is exactly what United Hebrew’s music therapist, Michael Lahue, is looking for. “Even if [patients] have trouble expressing themselves verbally, they can express themselves through music,” he says.
Music can also work to calm a patient who is anxious or has become restless, which are common symptoms of dementia that can be combated by music. “[It] lets them go back to their own time,” says Geri Brooks, United Hebrew’s vice president of geriatrics and home care. “They calm down and really enjoy the music.”
Sometimes, patients are only able to respond with brief moments of recognition with their eyes. But this doesn’t stop Lahue. “Music therapy helps patients cognitively,” he says. “It can also help to regulate their moods.”
Anything from singing to playing chimes or simply listening to music from the past helps to connect these patients to the world.
The residents are not the only ones who benefit from music therapy, either. Family members and visiting friends are welcome to take part. “It gives them a way to connect that they didn’t have before,” says Lahue. “It’s something they wouldn’t have with a simple visit.”