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Music meets physical therapy

November 17, 2015
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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At The Baird Nursing Home in Rochester, N.Y., residents soar through their physical therapy with a song. The skilled nursing community combines music therapy and senior physical therapy in special programs led by Molly Pow, a professional music therapist at Rochester’s Hochstein School of Music and Dance.

Pow’s group sessions incorporate small musical instruments to exercise fine and gross motor skills. But getting together to sign and play music also improved mood, fights depression and encourage socialization. Music can connect them to past memories as well as today’s friends, and families and visitors are welcome to join in when Pow is holding a group session. The opportunities to play as a group or improvise can exercise the residents’ creativity as well as their limbs and motor skills, Pow added.

The group music therapy sessions were so successful that Pow now holds one-on-one music therapy sessions as well, especially for residents in hospice or residents with cognitive decline. Pow sometimes even changes the lyrics of a song to reflect a resident’s context or emotions as a way of validating their one-on-one communication.

One resident, who had a background in music, found the individual sessions a cheerful way to communicate both her joys and her fears, Pow said. “During the individual sessions, the residents’ mood, affect, and tone of voice, improved,” Pow noted in a release. “Each session she successfully expressed her feelings, fears, wishes and thoughts with me, which provided her opportunities to process these and feel validated.”

For residents with dementia, Pow finds that the music therapy program is as useful for inspiring joy and exercising socialization and communication skills as it is for exercising the body. Residents can take a turn at “conducting” the group, which stimulates connection, orientation and visual/verbal cues. With music therapy in their lives, “The residents are beginning to recognize faces, remember names, initiate social engagement with fewer prompts, and converse with one another throughout music therapy interventions,” Pow said. “Residents who are further along in their dementia are experiencing moments of reality orientation, which, in turn, provide them the opportunity for enhanced quality of life, both personally and socially.”