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Enriching lives through music therapy

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By Erin Heidemann, MT-BC

Angela Johnson, MT-BC and I are full time music therapists on the memory care unit at Woodbury Health Care Center. Angela and I have worked together on the memory care unit for four years. Together, we have developed a Music Therapy program of activities that enriches the lives of all residents. Music is one of the last activities that can reach a person in the late stages of dementia. Therefore, we use music in many of our activities to reach non-musical goals.

We use music to reach goals in each wellness domain (cognitive, physical, social, vocational, spiritual, and social). Each day we try to create a balanced schedule that fulfills each wellness domain.

To reach cognitive goals we lead group sessions such as “Music Hangman,” “Tic Tac Tune,” “Music Jeopardy,” and “Music Pictionary” to name a few. Some of these groups are original ideas created by Angela and I, and some of them we have learned during our education and clinical experience. In the group “Tic Tac Tune,” the music therapist hands out large cards with either an “X” or “O.” We use a large tic tac toe board that the resident can stick the cards onto when they name a song that the music therapist sings correctly.

To enhance physical goals we lead a music and movement group on both long term care and memory care. We use a special technique based on NMT (Neurologic Music Therapy). In this technique the music therapist reflects the movement the residents are doing with the music to provide an auditory cue.  On the memory care unit, we have seen a significant increase in engaged participation when using LIVE music during exercise groups than without it.  

To enhance social goals we lead groups such as drum circle, where it requires the resident to listen to each other and respond based on what other residents are playing. The act of singing together in a group is a great way to increase socialization and interaction. We play different interactive games such as pass the beat where we go around the circle and each resident has to play their instrument when staff point to them. Or echoing a rhythm back, where the resident plays a beat on their instruments and the rest of the group plays it back.

residents playing instrumentsTo enhance vocational goals we lead groups such as jug band and silvertones bell choir where they are working towards a goal such as a concert or performing at the next church service. The residents are 100% involved in the creative process of choosing a theme for the concert, decorations, costumes, choosing songs, instrumentation, solos, etc. They have a lot of pride when they are able to perform for their peers and loved ones at the concert.

Each music therapist has a caseload of residents that we see for weekly music therapy 1:1 visits. A resident might be seen for music therapy 1:1 visits if they have low attendance in activities, isolate themselves in their room, or if they have severe dementia and are not able to fully engage in larger groups. An example of a 1:1 music therapy session is using music as the catalyst for life review.  In a life review project, the music therapists asks the resident questions about their life, sings songs relevant to their life and record it on a CD to later give to their families after they pass. Other goals include; increase socialization, increase word recall through finish the line song singing, increasing sensory stimulation, increasing relaxation through live harp music, using music as a motivator for physical activity, and many others.

We lead a variety of group music therapy session such as music and memory, music & movement, jug band, silvertones bell choir, finish the lyric, name that tune, and many more.

Music therapy is unique in that it can be effective for a wide range of ability levels. Even low functioning residents can enjoy the benefits of passively listening to the music, tapping their feet or answering a yes or no question. On the other side of the token, a higher functioning resident will feel successful reminiscing about a particular song, answering a music trivia question, or filling in a missing lyric. Music is processed in all parts of the brain which is different than normal information which is processed in specific areas.

The music therapy program at Woodbury Senior Living has continued to expand into the assisted living facilities – Woodbury Estates and Woodbury Villa – with the recent hiring this past fall of Michaela Helms, MT-BC a previous intern of Erin Heidemann, MT-BC. During her internship, Michaela Helms worked with a particular resident in memory care with the primary goal to enhance vocational well-being by offering adaptive piano and vocal lessons. These music therapy sessions occurred weekly on a one-to-one basis for approximately six months. At the end of the six months, the resident and music therapy intern, Michaela Helms performed a solo recital where the resident’s family was able to attend and hear their loved one sing for them as well as an audience. The resident and resident’s family were overjoyed and thankful that the resident was able to find purpose and achieve a goal of performing musically which was something this resident always wanted to do in his life.

At the Woodbury Estates and Woodbury Villa, Michaela Helms works with individuals in memory care as well as with independent older adults. She has been able to develop a successful senior choir program at the Woodbury Villa where they have performed off campus for the city of Woodbury as well as for their families during holiday events. Michaela Helms also works directly with the residents at the Willows where she facilitates drum circles, one-to-one interventions, cognitive music therapy, music and memory interventions, music relaxation utilizing the reverie harp and native American flute, and many other music therapy interventions that strive to enhance the goals within the wellness domain. With the implementation of all of the music therapy programs at the Woodbury Estates and Woodbury Villa, the results have been positive with many residents commenting on how much they enjoy the music therapy sessions as well as how much it has enhanced their lives at Woodbury Senior Living.

The music therapy internship program at Woodbury Health Care Center was created by Jessica DeVillers, MT-BC in 2011. The program has seen three directors in its time span: Jessica DeVillers, MA, MT-BC, Ashley Holten, MT-BC, and the current director Erin Heidemann, MT-BC and fellow internship supervisor, Angela Johnson, MT-BC.  This fall 2017 we will be transitioning to having four interns at a time. Angela and I will each supervise two interns. Additionally, the internship is expanding into the Woodbury Villa and Estates. We have graduated interns from University of Florida, Augsburg College, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, and others.  All of our interns since 2011 have obtained music therapy professions after their internship. If you are interested in applying for the internship program, click here for the Music Therapy Internship Application or contact Erin Heidemann at [email protected].

Music therapy is a credentialed field that requires in-depth educational and clinical training in order to be professionally administered. There is a distinction between a musician and a music therapist. Music therapists are not there to entertain or put on a performance, we are there to help the residents reach specific goals using music. I believe music therapy is a very effective and beneficial service that is under utilized and not commonly known. As music therapists, we are offering something unique, research-based, and most importantly effective in enriching lives of our residents here at Woodbury Senior Living. 


Written by Lifespark

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