The transition from one's home to a long-term care facility can be a significant source of distress for many seniors. After all, they are entering an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar people, leaving behind their home where they feel comfortable, and consequently experiencing a sense of loss of autonomy and security. For many, this can cause feelings of depression, anxiety, and increased confusion, which can lead to further concerns such as social isolation and challenging behaviours. This is when having a music therapist on-site can help to make a difference.
Difficulty with transition is a common reason why residents are referred to music therapy in long-term care settings. When a music therapist receives such a referral, they will always start by building rapport with the resident during the assessment period.
It is not uncommon that a new resident be resistant to building rapport. Sometimes, the beginnings of building this rapport can simply mean knocking on their door each week for a quick check-in, asking them how they are feeling, and validating what they are going through. They may not be ready for anything more, so the music therapist will hold off spending prolonged time together, or introducing music.
In my experience, many new residents with trouble transitioning to the facility often wander the hallways for long periods of time due to disorientation. They either go back and forth down the same corridor or walk laps around the entire floor. In this case, I may decide to walk one lap with them each week for the first few weeks. Sometimes, this just means saying 'Hello' and walking together, if that is all they are willing to accept at the time. Perhaps after the first few weeks they will join me in singing a song or whistling a tune while we walk. Perhaps the week after that, they will join in sitting down on the hallway bench for music or conversation. And perhaps many weeks later, they will join in group music therapy, where they can socialize with other residents.
Depending on a resident's specific needs and cognitive abilities, the music therapist will determine goals for them to help with the transition to the home. These can include, for example: creative expression through musical improvisation, verbal expression through song reflection, and/or increases in social interaction through instrument playing with peers in group sessions.
Music therapists have all the right tools to help seniors during this time in their lives. That 'toolbox' incorporates many essentials, such as:
- an emphasis on building therapeutic relationship, trust, and rapport;
- the fact that seniors often welcome music, even if they don't welcome other activities or interactions;
- the non-threatening way in which music can help resident engage and express themselves;
- the training and expertise of music therapists, who know how to work with a range of emotions and behaviours.
The results of music therapy for a new resident can truly make all the difference for their quality of life as they move forward to this next stage. This is one of the many reasons I believe that every long-term care facility should have a music therapist on-site. The music therapist can address the highest-needs residents and make a significant and positive impact.