The Benefits of Singing in Older Adults

November 18, 2014
Amy Clements-Cortes PhD MT-BC MT FAMI
Amy Clements-Cortes, PhD, MT-BC, MTA, FAMI, NMT is an Assistant Professor, Music and Health Research Collaboratory, University of Toronto

 

This past Saturday I had the honour to present and attend the Music Care Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University with the theme of Singing in Care. What an optimal tool so readily available to all of us to consider: Singing! I have had the privilege of presenting at several of these conferences in the past years which are attended by a variety of healthcare professionals, caregivers and music focused individuals.

This year’s conference featured several presentations relevant to long-term care providers. Sarah Pearson from the Room 217 Foundation gave a dynamic demonstration on strategies to assist professional and family caregivers on including their voices and singing in care interactions. Catherine Haire presented on the role of neurologic music therapy in facilitating speech through a variety of prescribed singing interventions, while Kate Munger spoke on the importance of singing in end-of-life care. 

I particularly enjoyed two of the keynote presenters, Dr. Carey Andrew-Jaja and Debbie Lou Loudolph. Dr. Jaja, an obstetrician presented videos of his practice where he sings babies into this world. His practice and integration of song at the beginning of life spoke to me as a practitioner in end-of-life care. While Dr. Jaja sings babies into the world, I am reminded of the importance of singing as persons are dying and leaving this place. I have sung at the bedside of dying persons alone and with family members; and have witnessed the power of song to assist transition, presence, peace and healing at end-of-life. Ms. Ludolph sang and spoke poignantly on the role of singing for spiritual wellbeing, social justice and community building. She had conference attendees standing and singing in a moving performance focusing on the importance of singing for faith, connection and healing.

I was pleased to present on “Singing for the Health of It” which featured my three phase study on the benefits of choral singing facilitated by music therapists on health, wellness and successful aging of cognitively intact and cognitively impaired older adults. Study one had a number of qualitative themes emerge including: friendship and companionship, fun, relaxing and reduced anxiety, simplicity, and happiness, uplifting and positive thoughts. Studies two and three were designed to build off the findings and analysis of studies one and two respectfully. Study two (T-test analyses, two-sided with aggregated sessions data), indicated that changes were statistically significant (P<.01) for four indicators: increases in mood, energy and happiness and a decrease in pain. Nine large themes also emerged from study two including: music is therapy. Study three which focused on singing for older adults with cognitive impairment attending choral sessions with a caregiver results are currently being analyzed.

These studies have received funding support from the Baycrest Centre Foundation, as well as the AIRS collaborative research group. The findings from Glee one and two have been published in the Journal of Activities, Adaptation and Aging and the Canadian Association for Music Therapy respectfully.

As if all of the learning was not enough enrichment, there was much live music to enjoy and partake in. The Wilfrid Laurier singers gave a moving performance and we were moved by the opening of Gerard Yun & Dong Won Kim.

I encourage long-term care practitioners to view the resources available on the Room 217 website as tools to include in daily care (www.room217.ca). There are a variety of music CDs and soon a new Pathways DVD series of sing-alongs for older adults.  I am blessed to use my voice for health initiatives with older adults and am enriched by my clinical work and research. “A song a day keeps health in check!”