Seniors Can Benefit From Music Therapy In A Variety Of Ways

Q. What is "music therapy" and how does it benefit the aging population? AWe asked Laurel Redecker, a member of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging, to respond.

While teaching organ and piano lessons at a senior center, Redecker could see that playing a musical instrument was therapeutic to the seniors who took lessons.

This led her to pursue a college degree in "Music Therapy for the Aging," which she received in 1991 at 54. But let's let her explain better:

"Most of us know that music can be therapeutic, but music therapists use music in special ways. They use music to soothe or stimulate activity, to provide socialization, to express patriotism, religion, or a sense of fraternity, or to help recall memorable experiences.

"The goals of music therapy include appropriate release of emotions, increased verbalization and social skills, reinforced listening skills, and enhanced self-mage and personal development. Because many of these goals can be applied to the aging population, music therapy is an excellent technique for working with the elderly.

"Music therapy is essentially an activity therapy. Such activities include sing-alongs, instrumental play-alongs, songwriting, learning to play an instrument either individually or in groups, or performing for others. Passive music therapy which involves listening only is also very important, for it has been found that listening to music can help control pain, thus decreasing the need for pain medication.

"Many problems specific to the aging population can be helped by music therapy. These include loss of independence, isolation, possible loneliness or depression, or just being perceived by themselves and others as `old and useless.' Music therapy, such as learning to play an instrument, can help build self esteem, offer socialization, and help express individuality and creativity.

"Music therapy for those with dementias, in addition to providing a pleasant experience and socialization, can help effect changes in behavior - at least during the time of the activity. This often happens when the musical piece that is performed is remembered as an important part of the listener's youth. Once when a woman who could no longer talk began singing `The Star Spangled Banner' in a high, clear voice as I played it on the piano, tears came to my eyes.

"Music can be a form of preventive medicine for many, particularly among the `well aging,' who take advantage of the music activities offered at senior centers. If you have any special musical talents, or if you just like to sing, consider joining one of the singing groups or kitchen bands offered at many of the senior centers. . . . The seniors in the choral groups and organ classes I work with consistently report how wonderful it makes them feel to bring joy to others with their music. And if that isn't therapeutic, I don't know what is!"

As Time Goes By appears each Sunday in The Seattle Times and is produced by the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging.

If you're an older person and have a problem, there are many agencies in the Seattle/King County area to help you, but finding the right agency to meet your need can be frustrating and complicated. Senior Information and Assistance may be able to help, call 448-3110 or toll-free, (800) 972-9990.

Please address questions or comments to As Time Goes By, c/o Scene, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.


-- "Women's Aging & Well-Being" lecture/discussion series to help women cope with the issues of growing older. Sponsored by North Seattle Community College and CRONE. Begins April 14 (four Tuesday classes), 6:30-8:30 p.m., Sand Point Way Elementary School, 6208 60th Ave. N.E. ($20; 527-3705).