Innovative music therapies engage seniors

What if you could hear your favorite songs at the press of a button? Isn’t this a wonderful way to reconnect with the past and bring it into the present? Or create your own music with the wave of a wand, tapping your imagination. iPods and  laser beams are 21st-century tools that provide that therapeutic edge at Bethany Village, located near Mechanicsburg, Penna.

And the results have been remarkable at Bethany Village’s Oaks Skilled Nursing. High-tech music therapy is the newest way to engage residents, even those with cognitive challenges. Susan Crossley, director of recreation, notes, “We have seen remarkable results rather quickly with these music therapies that ultimately improve residents’ quality of life.”

In 2011, Bethany Village was awarded a research grant through the Music and Memory Foundation and the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in New York. The goal was to provide evidence that individualized music therapy can improve quality of life and improve therapeutic outcomes.


Forty-eight iPods and personalized playlists were offered to residents from age 85 to 97. Some listeners just enjoyed the music. Crossley notes that the music calmed restless residents. “For some with cognitive or memory loss, medications have been  decreased and some anti-anxiety drugs have been eliminated.”

Whether the resident’s musical appetites run from big band, ethnic music or show tunes, personalized playlist accommodate their preferences. Charge Nurse Lori Geissler, LPN, tells how the iPod helped one resident whose particular deafness caused her to communicate distress. “This resident seemed to enjoy very little in life, and now she singing along to the music,” says Geissler. There are residual benefits too. She explains that when the music calms this woman, other residents calm down too.


Primarily an occupational therapy tool, Beamz—a device with six laser triggers and two button triggers activates up to 64 independently controlled sequences of musical notes or events. Using the device regularly a resident with Parkinson’s disease had difficulty with coordination and spatial relationships. Crossley explains that the resident would want to pick up a fork, but ended up moving her hand in the wrong direction. “The sound emitted from the lasers helps give her feedback on where she needs to be. It helps her adjust her movements to make up for the perception deficit,” she adds.

Beamz has had great success as a music therapy tool, also. The device lets residents express themselves creatively and it is fun to use. This intuitive, easy-to-use light beam device lets a resident move his or her hands through any of the four laser beams to trigger multiple streams of musical notes and sounds.

Bethany resident, 83-year-old Albert Glover has taken to the laser instrument with ease and gets a range-of-motion workout while doing it. The music therapy program at Bethany Village was recently featured on a “Keys to Caring” segment on WHPTV in Penna. Glover took center stage in his demonstration of the laser beam device.

Whether you play, sing, lip sync or close your eyes and relax, music has a healing magic of its own.

Topics: Activities , Alzheimer's/Dementia