Music as Therapy for Pain, Energy, and Mood: Highlights from CAG

October 20, 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 week I had the honour to present and attend the 43rd Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting of the Canadian Association on Gerontology. This was my first time attending the vibrant opportunity to learn from a diverse group of professionals including physicians, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, personal support workers, and other allied health care professionals; while also sharing my own work with older adults. The conference offered several keynote presentations, symposia, oral papers and research posters, alongside a large group of exhibitors featuring products/tools, research, and education on aging.

One of the outstanding keynotes I attended was given by Dr. Irene Turpie, from McMaster University. Her talk on "Global Aging: Challenges and Opportunities from a Health Care Perspective" provided new insights into current and future aging trends, alongside implications for healthcare professionals to consider in supporting an aging population in low and middle income countries. As persons are living longer around the globe including in less developed countries, the striking and leading cause of death internationally is ischemic heart disease followed by stroke. Further, there will be a rise in the incidence of dementia, which was not surprising. What was surprising is the alarming rate at which dementia will grow in low and middle income nations. Turpie reported that by the year 2050, the incidence of dementia will increase by over 100% in these areas, and at present these countries are not prepared to deal with this elevation. One challenge she discussed was the treatment and management of pain in older adults. Morphine, for example, is a low cost drug to produce and an effective treatment for many persons suffering from pain, but it is restricted in 80% of countries due to regulations and fear of drug abuse. Turpie presented so many important healthcare propositions to consider, which I am sure will stimulate attendees towards new research initiatives while motivating professionals to improve and implement best practices in treating a multitude of symptoms experienced by older adults.

On a personal note, I was pleased to present a research poster on “Rhythmic Sensory Stimulation (RSS) for Alzheimer’s (AD) and Parkinsons (PD)”; and an oral paper on “Canadian Glee for Older Adults: Singing for the Health of It." The poster gave an overview the concept and uses of RSS for AD and PD; and the design of an RSS AD pilot study underway with a collaborative team of researchers. Dr. Lee Bartel, “Music and Health Research Collaboratory (MaHRC), University of Toronto” has developed the concept of RSS: stimulation of neural activity and stimulation of the physical body with sound applied rhythmically to the body or auditory system.  As physical stimulation RSS has demonstrated its effectiveness in improving mobility, increasing circulation, decreasing pain, and reducing muscle strain and stiffness. As neural stimulation with AD, RSS maybe an effective treatment for improving attention and cognitive clarity. There is considerable music and health related research underway at the MaHRC. To learn more visit

The Canadian Glee presentation featured a multi-phase investigation that examined the benefits of singing in a choir facilitated by music therapists on health, wellness and successful aging of cognitively intact and cognitively impaired older adults. Studies two and three were designed to build off the findings and analysis of studies one and two respectfully. From study one 5 qualitative themes emerged including: friendship and companionship; simplicity; happiness, uplifting and positive feelings; relaxing and reduced anxiety; and fun. 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 results are currently being analyzed.

These studies have received funding support from MaHRC, 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, respectively.

I encourage long-term care practitioners to view the program and abstracts from this amazing learning experience at I truly feel blessed to work with older adults and am enriched by all my clinical work and research.