Music Therapy at Felician Village

Written by Barb Spies, Director of Mission Services and Pastoral Care

We know that people enjoy music, but research has shown that beyond enjoyment, there are documented benefits. So, several years ago in 2020, Felician Village began a music therapy program guided by a certified music therapist with funding from donors. We are unique in the area in this offering. Music therapy uses interventions to accomplish individualized goals. The music therapist will gather information about the resident through referrals and conversations with staff and will conduct an assessment to figure out the needs of that individual. Then they will set up their plan for meeting those needs. Some examples of goals are: to utilize cognitive ability, to increase verbal communication and self-expression, elevate mood, decrease anxiety, and decrease isolation while increasing engagement.

Initially we had a music therapist who was on site. We had a unique opportunity that arose during the pandemic, and that was for virtual music therapy. One of our pastoral care associates acts as the interventionist for the virtual music therapist. She brings the computer into the resident’s room, connects to the music therapist on zoom, and they begin their session. They have some conversation and then move right into music. The interventionist supplies any physical items to assist with the session to provide additional sensory input, and for the resident to work on range of motion and attention to the music. The therapist knows the best kind of music and elements of music to implement for that individual in order to meet their needs.

They really go with the preferences of the individual receiving the therapy. They can choose hymns, popular songs from their era, and even polkas! They also might sing a prayer or their conversation to help the individual with speaking clearly. In other sessions, simple folk melodies are implemented and sung by the therapist to increase positive responses through familiarity to increase reminiscence, which increases verbal self-expression. Tempos and the beat of the music is used to provide structure to the session and to improve focus of attention. Sometimes the resident will think of a song that they’d really like to sing and the music therapist and interventionist will go hunt for versions of that song to be able to learn it for the next session. The interventionist who is on site observes and documents for the music therapist what she can see and experience: a smile afterwards, foot tapping, humming, and interactions later in the day or week with that resident.

We know that music can have a calming effect, can bring joy, can affect our emotional response. But, music therapy takes it much further than the happiness I might feel singing along to my favorite song as I drive home! Music therapy is documented to increase alertness and decrease anxiety and agitation. As you can imagine, this can be particularly helpful with an individual who might have a form of dementia. It can also help with clarity in speech and ability to converse. For example, there was an individual who had Parkinson’s and was frustrated with their slurred speech. Music therapy helped to improve the individuals speech, their vowel sounds, and their ability to open their mouth more to make everything clearer. This individuals family members were amazed at the increased ability to communicate.   

Overall, music therapy works to meet the individual needs of the resident, meeting them where they are, following the tempo they need, offering the sensory input they benefit from.

Some content requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.