In recent years, new services have emerged to bring individualized music programs on iPods to residents in long-term care. As a music therapist who loves bringing music in all forms to older adults, I have a few thoughts to share.
Here’s the short version:Is it a good idea to provide iPods with individualized playlists to residents in long-term care? Yes. Should all long-term care residents have access to this kind of program? Yes. Can individualized iPod playlists replace music therapy? No. The thing is, individualized iPod playlists and music therapy are two different animals. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Individualized playlists place a premium on individual choice and accessing music at any time.It’s pretty easy to see the appeal of residents having the music they want when they want it. Individualized playlists offer certain advantages:
- Residents get the chance to hear their chosen music at any given time, regardless of what’s on the activity schedule or the radio. They can have special music to relax when they’re feeling agitated (like bath time), and music to energize when they wake up in the morning or get ready to do their exercise.
- Because the playlists are individualized, they can choose music based on their preferences: love Frank Sinatra? You could fill hours listening to his music. Hate that big band stuff the older residents love? Then fill your iPod with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Eagles.
Advantage: Music is available whenever needed or desired.
Disadvantage: It does little to build relationships with others.
Music therapy places a premium on relationships.In fact, several relationship are involved: the relationship between the resident and the music therapist, relationships among residents in a group, relationships with staff members who participate in music therapy programs, and the relationship between all of the people participating and the music they share. This relationship element offers certain advantages to the long-term care resident:
- Residents find common ground and shared experiences with the other people who participate in music-making with them.
- As the relationships among the music therapist and the participants and the music change moment to moment, the live music therapist has the flexibility to adapt music experiences in the moment. (“Wait – did I say I hated ‘You Are My Sunshine?’ Well, today it’s reminding me of my grandmother. I guess I want to sing it after all.”)
Advantage: Music therapy nurtures relationships.
Disadvantage: You can’t have a music therapist around the clock.