Music therapy in skilled nursing facilities


“The power of music is remarkable… One sees Parkinsonian patients unable to walk, but able to dance perfectly well or patients almost unable to talk, who are able to sing perfectly well… I think that music therapy and music therapists are crucial and indispensable in institutions for elderly people and among neurologically disabled patients.”

— Dr. Oliver Sachs, author of “Awakenings” and “Musicophilia”
at a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled “Forever Young: Music and Aging.”

Nursing homes often hire music therapists. People are likely to feel depressed and grief-stricken when moved away from their homes and families into a facility for strangers to take care of them. Music therapy helps to relieve grief and improve emotional tones and feelings. Therapists can also help residents that suffer from Alzheimer`s and dementia, because studies have found that music can improve their memory. This improvement is partly due to the effect music has on increasing the release of certain hormones in the body.

It Isn’t Just the Music

Just playing music is not enough to provide residents with therapeutic music therapy.

Allowing residents to play music in their room, without supervision, or even to adjust television noise without supervision, can lead to adverse outcomes. As a result, many nursing homes will control the sound levels of the television and will only permit specific music use in the resident rooms. Controlled sound and genre is important to maintaining peace within and among the nursing home residents.


A Model Program

Heart Song, an individualized music therapy program, couples music and song with guided imagery to help residents manage stress, alleviate pain and anxiety, reduce depression, and enhance memories. The program is also beneficial in providing comfort to those with terminal illnesses or those on palliative care. Several studies have been completed which have demonstrated that music, coupled with guided imagery can reduce the frequency and severity of depression, anxiety and pain in some people.

Consider the Benefits

Research shows a widely shared conclusion is that music can supplement medical treatment. The cost is low, there are few side effects, and music gives a high level of patient satisfaction. Clinical experience and analyses of effect size indicate that music has a specific potential in nursing homes. It can enhance well-being and alleviate symptoms like agitation, anxiety, depression, and it may also contribute in palliative care at the end-of-life stage.