When NOT to Hire a Music Therapist in Long-Term Care: Maximizing the Resources You Have

This post is the last in my series on hiring a music therapist in long-term care. In this series, I have described the various ways music therapists work in special care, skilled nursing and assisted living settings – including one-on-one visits, music therapy groups, and specialized music-making groups – and the particular reasons why each of these services would benefit your facility and the residents that live there.

After reading these posts, you could be thinking a few different things. You might think, “Great! I have to get me one of those music therapists right now!” In that case, please contact us about arranging music therapy services for your facility!

You just might be thinking, though, “Wow. I’d love to have a music therapist here, but I’m not sure what we can afford.” Of course, maximally efficient use of the budget must be your priority, especially as health care costs continue to rise. (An activity director I know says she has been “squeezing a dollar out of a dime for twenty years.”) To help you stay cost-effective, many music therapy agencies, including Soundscape Music Therapy, will help you to design a music therapy program that will address the most resident needs for the budget you have, as well as consulting with you on music activity programming other than music therapy.

In fact, even when you can’t have a music therapist, you can still do a lot to serve your residents through music. In fact, there are times when the people you’ve already got might even be more effective than a music therapist, especially if they already have a special relationship with your residents. Here are some resources to draw on:

Recorded music

Of course, recorded music is the easiest way to bring high-quality music to your residents at any time of day, and you’re probably using it already. These days it is pretty easy to find digital downloads of the specific songs you want on sites like iTunes and Amazon.com. (I include links to Amazon.com that will take you directly to digital downloads of the songs I discuss on this website.) You can easily build playlists of resident favorites to fit the season, the activity, or the time of day (high-energy songs vs. sentimental songs, for example) and play these back on computer speakers or by burning CDs to play on boomboxes.* One caveat with recorded music is that it is possible – and easy – to go a bit overboard with playing music all the time. Sometimes silence is okay, too – just ask your residents what they prefer and observe their reactions to hearing recorded music at various times of the day.

TV broadcasts

PBS stations frequently broadcast music programs, including performance by the Metropolitan Opera and the recent Motown Tribute at the White House. These would be great additions to an activity calendar, especially if you have a good quality TV and sound system available. (I can imagine a wine and cheese reception to go along with an opera broadcast. How sophisticated!) It would also be a good idea to keep these broadcasts in mind for residents who might enjoy watching these on their own in their room.

Volunteer musicians

Churches and schools are both great places to find people who might want to perform music for your residents, and not just during Christmas caroling season. I have been part of a church bell choir that performed Easter music at several nursing homes, and in high school, I participated in a group of students from the National Honor Society performing at area long-term care facilities. In fact, both of these experiences reinforced my desire to become a music therapist. There are so many possibilities for volunteer musicians – church musicians could lead hymn sings, or high school students could perform the music they are preparing for the regional and state solo and ensemble competitions that happen each spring. While it might take some time and effort on your part to recruit volunteers, I think the effort would pay off.

Residents’ family members and friends

Yet another group of people to draw from are the friends and family of your residents. Do grandkids want to perform before the dinner hour? Do residents’ children have ideas on who could volunteer to lead sing-alongs? I once worked at a facility that had a resident’s family perform each Christmas – this family included about a dozen people of all ages, and everyone in the facility looked forward to this performance each year. There might be people willing to share their musical talents, if only someone would ask.

Other staff members

Speaking of people who are just waiting to be asked to share their musical talents, don’t forget to draw on the musical talents of the staff members at your facility. Another facility I served had a talent show each year featuring residents and staff members. I saw one young CNA perform a rap for the audience of residents and staff members – they all loved it! Plus, when staff members get to share their music with residents, it helps to build rapport among all the members of the community.

Your residents

To name just one more group of people who might just need an invitation to play music for everyone else, don’t forget the residents themselves! I have known residents that just needed a bit of encouragement or adaptation from the music therapist or other staff members, then they were able and willing to play music in the nursing home. I have a client in his late 90s who leads sing-alongs from the piano a couple of times a month! I think it is always worth showcasing a resident’s skills, and if everyone else can benefit from that musical performance, all the better.

You can do a lot to bring music to your residents by maximizing the resources you have, and sometimes these end up being the most special music experiences of all. When have you had a particularly great music experience in your facility? Please leave your comment below!

*There are some restrictions on copying and distributing copyrighted material, including music. Many healthcare facilities should already have a license that allows them to play copyrighted recorded music in public areas. For more information, visit copyright.gov or read my blog post on the subject.

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