We all expect to hear music during music therapy sessions, of course, but one of the best things about music therapists is that we also know the importance of facilitating experiences that draw together all of the senses. Music therapists especially learn the importance of integrating visual and touch stimuli in music therapy sessions with all client populations, with the aim of finding a way to engage every person in the therapeutic process. We had a perfect multi-sensory experience last week in a music therapy group for older adults with dementia, but I cannot take credit for the idea that tied everything together – that came from the facility’s life enrichment coordinator, Peggy.
Our session today centered on music about winter weather, an ever-popular topic of discussion in the Midwest. We talked about sledding, snowball fights, and snowmen; sang “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Let It Snow;” and played instruments together with the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Near the end of the session, Peggy disappeared for a couple of minutes, and when she returned, she had a plastic tub full of fresh, white snow! She took the tub around to each resident and let them feel how cold and wet the snow was while we sang and played our wintry music. As we ended the session and I was packing up my equipment, Peggy was packing snowballs, letting the residents hold them, and eventually tossing a few across the room. By the time I left the facility, she was starting to build a miniature snowman, taking advice from the residents on how to complete the process.
I love how this session evolved! The music I was providing definitely drew the residents’ attention, helping them to be more alert and engaged in the group’s process. When Peggy brought in the snow, though, it tied together everything we had talked and sung and played about, giving the residents a real-time, concrete experience of the world outside their living space – even better than looking out the window. Best of all, this added experience was free and easy to clean up. (Goodness knows we’re always looking for inexpensive props for our group experiences!)
What this life enrichment coordinator did is what any person working with older adults can do to enhance their residents’ experiences in music therapy or general activity programming. You can make every experience even richer by targeting as many senses as you can. When you get a spark of inspiration like that, don’t be afraid to try it out and see what happens!