SMU Students Lead Music Therapy For Memory Care Seniors

Students at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts pursuing a degree in music therapy have partnered with Presbyterian Village North, a senior living community in Dallas, to lead weekly therapy sessions as part of their degree requirements.

However, the sessions have brought new perspective and life for all involved.

The program was kick-started this month, and will go until the end of the Spring semester. Each group, comprised of 10 to 15 residents, meets for an hour every week.

Throughout the course of the session, leaders will work through music therapy interventions that address goals that pertain to range of motion or physical endurance, cognitive or memory skills, self-expression or emotional wellness, problem solving, fine motor skills and socialization.

”The students are learning how to become music therapists so I help them refine what they’re learning in school and take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply in in the actual setting,” said Janice Lindstrom, adjunct lecturer of music therapy and clinical supervisor for SMU.

“We ask attendees what music they enjoy listening to, and if they cannot speak, we look up music that was popular when they were in their 20s, as this is the time frame that tends to be more meaningful for them. Getting residents to actively make music has the greatest effect, and this is what we use to elicit responses during our therapies," Lindstrom said. "When we begin the session, participants tend to become more alert. There is more engagement and increased socialization on an interpersonal level. While we cannot reverse the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, we can create a space in which meaningful interactions and connections take place.”

Residents are really enjoying it, as well.

“We love to hear the people, see them come, see what they do and listen to what they sing. Yeah, we like it,” says Israel Larkin, 91.

“A lot of music and songs, we learn in our younger years and fortunately in Alzheimer's, the last memories to go are the more remote memories,” said Alzheimer’s Disease Researcher Dr. Munro Cullum, Professor of Psychiatry, and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern.

“We believe that activating those positive memories and positive things are very beneficial to patients in helping them feel better, becoming more alert, more interactive with people. Also, it can liven some up,” Cullum said.

Presbyterian Village North is in the process of implementing additional music programming, and plans to develop additional music therapy sessions in the future with the expansion of its memory care units.

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