Music Therapy for the Elderly

In a Music USA: NAMM Global Report published in 2006, it was reported that “85% of Americans believe that music is a very important part of their life.”  The benefits of music cannot be easily overstated.  Clinically it has shown to reduce stress, depression, and pain while providing a myriad of other benefits.

With this in mind, organizations and experts in elderly care are using music therapy more each day as a successful healing therapy for the elderly.



According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy “is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”  It is conducted by qualified music therapists that carry the MT-BC credential indicating that they have passed the national, independent certification board exam and have maintained awareness of current practice through continuing education or retesting.



Board certified music therapists assess the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of each client; determine what aspect of music can help meet the therapeutic goals; and facilitate therapeutic music experiences to address the nonmusical goals. This usually involves live music and may include singing, life review, movement to music, processing, songwriting, playing instruments, creation of legacy gifts, or other success oriented interventions. This can be done as a standalone therapy to decrease things like discomfort, anxiety, or depression; or in coordination with other therapies such as a physical therapy or speech therapy, to help clients meet their physical or speech goals faster and with stronger results. 



I spoke with Melissa Hirokawa, M.M., MT-BC owner of Living Spirit Therapy Services, LLC who has been working with the elderly in the Twin Cities for several years.  She has witnessed many inspiring successes of music therapy. I would like to pass along two stories she shared with me.

The first was with “Donna”, a woman who had a stroke two years ago. Donna had failed speech therapy and was told that she simply wasn’t going to be able to say anything other than “yes, yes, yes”, “no, no, no”, and “ok”, the only speech she retained post-stroke. During a music therapy group, Melissa noticed that Donna could sing every word of a song even though she couldn’t speak. Utilizing the same neurologic music therapy techniques used to retrain Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ speech after her traumatic brain injury, they began 1:1 music therapy sessions. Donna is now able to speak in 7-8 word sentences, read out loud, and is beginning to communicate normally with others.

The second story I would like to share is about “Harold” a gentleman who had dementia. He and his wife had been married for 50 years, worked together, and were constantly together. Due to his advanced dementia, Harold wasn’t able to recognize her as someone familiar let alone his wife. He couldn’t put three words together that made sense, and there was no meaningful interaction between them making visiting extremely difficult. One day Melissa played “Always”. Harold turned to his wife, that he didn’t recognize five minutes before, and said clear as day, even though he couldn’t put three logical words together, “That was our song wasn’t it?” It was their wedding song. Through the music, Harold was able to make an emotional connection, recall a memory, and to clearly express it. Music therapy opened the door to relationships, experiences, and communication that had long since been lost.



To learn more about music therapy in elder care, visit Melissa’s website: or contact her at 612-208-0156 or


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