Time for the Big Move? Music Therapy Can Help

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Dolly Wittman, the president of Caring Transitions here in Kansas City. Her company exists to help people – especially seniors – who are moving to a new living situation and are in need of help figuring out where to go and what to do with all their stuff. That translates to helping with downsizing/decluttering, estate sales, shipping treasured belongings, and figuring out floor plans in the new place.

I had heard of services like these but had not met anyone locally who was doing this work, and the thought that came to mind is this: what a valuable service to seniors to help them manage all the baggage – both tangible and intangible – that comes with moving into a senior living facility. Often, people are leaving the homes where they have lived for many, many years, and they may not be eager to do so.

Music therapy one-on-one visits can be helpful for people who have recently moved to a nursing home or other long-term care facility. Through music, I can offer familiarity and a safe social connection, just at the time when everything and everyone is unfamiliar. Music therapy can offer opportunities for life review, which validates a person’s past experiences and recognizes all that has made him who he is. Music therapy also provides experiences that are social in an organic way, which can provide an avenue for connecting to a person’s new community in their new home. Eventually, music therapy might help a new resident feel comfortable enough in his or her new home to participate fully in the life of the community and no longer have a need for one-on-one intervention by the music therapist.

Pretty much this exact pattern happened with a gentleman I worked with several years ago. He was an old farmer – he had worked the same patch of land for decades, and when his family moved him to a nursing home after his dementia symptoms became too dangerous to handle at home, his primary concern was how the livestock and the crops were doing. While he couldn’t leave the facility to check on the farm himself, he could talk to me about it. “Home on the Range” brought the first opening to a conversation (after he had been less-than-willing to converse with the nursing staff, who he saw as his captors). Our musical connection was strengthened by playing and singing folk songs together, with me on the guitar and him on the paddle drum. Eventually, this resident started attending the regular music therapy groups in his neighborhood at the nursing home, and, eventually, the other activities happening throughout the month. By then, he didn’t need the music therapy relationship as an anchor anymore, so we ended the one-on-one visits, while continuing to make music together in the group sessions. 

Familiarity. Connection. Safety. Outlet for frustration. Container for emotional release. All of these can be offered by music therapy to a new resident in a long-term care facility who may be struggling with the transition. Have you seen music therapy benefit elders moving to new living situations? How did it work? Please leave your comments below! 


  1. Natalie Mullis, MT-BC on May 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

    I have to say Rachelle, you have a gift for beautifully putting patient experiences into words! The ability we have as music therapists to make a transition more bearable for a client is such a gift.

    • soundscapemusictherapy on May 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      Why, thank you, Natalie! I agree – it is such a privilege to be able to help clients manage such enormous transitions. I do love my job!

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