Music Therapy for People with Disabilities

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Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is an interaction between a registered therapist and a client through the use of music, providing rich opportunities for people to participate, engage, learn, celebrate and interact. It is a way of helping people who are suffering from, or living with, a wide range of conditions.

Music therapy has been successful as therapeutic intervention for people of any age with physical, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual challenges and it may play an important role in developing, maintaining and/or restoring physical function, but also for people who are elderly, people coping with pain or simply people who want to bring something more to their lives.

More than the simple act of listening to or creating music, music therapy is researched based; at its centre, and actively supports people as they strive to improve their health, functioning and wellbeing. It is delivered by university trained professionals who are registered with the Australian Music Therapy Association Inc and are therefore bound by a code of ethics that forms the basis of their work.

Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

What is a music therapist?

A music therapist is a qualified individual who delivers music therapy by playing pre-recorded or live music using one or several musical instruments in a clinically tested and researched manner, in order to produce specific results in the client.

Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

What does a music therapist do?

Music therapists work in sectors such as health, community, aged care, disability, early childhood, and private practice and they often work as part of a team in hospitals, aged care facilities, schools and in community programs.

Music therapy has been used to help people with physical and intellectual conditions since the 1780s but has surged in popularity since the 1940s. A music therapist creates clinical plans for patients as a part of a wide range of treatments from a team of professionals, within a client-centred, goal-directed framework.

Music therapy can help communicate with a person and help them to communicate back by using musical instruments to match the mood of the client in style, tempo, sound, rhythms produced by the therapist.

For example, the therapist might create a small piece of music, in advance of the appointment or in the moment, and gauge the reaction of the client. The client will listen to the music and be allowed to react to it in any way the client wishes to. The client may even be offered a set of instruments to use, explore, or respond with, such as percussion instruments, or be given the chance to strum a guitar, or press some keyboard keys, or even create their own musical piece.

These therapeutic programs disseminate planned and controlled musical moments and can have many benefits to the client, which is one of the reasons why music therapy is available through the NDIS scheme.

Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

How does music therapy work?

Music therapy has physiological, emotional, and mental effects on the client in many ways by providing sensory stimulations that positively affect the clients physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. Music therapy:

  • develops and maintains joint and muscle function,
  • increases fine and gross motor coordination and control, muscle strength, and range of motion,
  • improves cardiopulmonary and respiratory functioning and oral-motor skills,
  • facilitates relaxation and controlled movement,
  • provides an outlet for emotional self-expression and opportunities for social interaction.
Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

What are the effects of music therapy?

Music reaches us. Music comprehension is intricately linked to emotional brain functions, so music can trigger a wide range of responses well beyond the scope of simple musical enjoyment.

Also, music creation is a physical experience, which can have beneficial input for people who may live with motor function challenges. This can be achieved by a therapist and the client by practicing range of motion, hand-grasp strength, and forms of no-verbal expression.

Similarly, musical involvement is a multi-sensory act, which may provide distraction from the pain discomfort, and anxiety often associated with some physical disabilities.

Further benefits include opportunities to share thoughts and experiences and to enhance feelings of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem. Grouping these benefits with the potential music has to promote overall relaxation, it is clear to see how music therapy can be of great benefit.

Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

Which conditions can music therapy assist with?

The full range of conditions and their respective benefits from music therapy are too large to describe fully in this article, but below is a list of conditions known to be helped by music therapy, and we will focus on a few major ones in order to give more detail:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Brain Injuries
  • Childbirth and Neonatal Care
  • Children with Emotional Disorders
  • Community Mental Health
  • Dementia Care
  • Developmental Delay
  • Geriatrics
  • Hearing Impaired
  • Mental Health
  • Mentally Challenged
  • Pain
  • Palliative Care
  • Personal Growth
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders
  • Physical Disabilities
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stress Management
  • Substance Abuse
  • Voice
Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

Music therapy and the Autism Spectrum

Music therapy can help people living with ASD by connecting with them in a non-verbal way, through the sound and vibration itself, but also through enjoyment, which is particularly effective for children with ASD. Music therapy can assist in developments of behavioural improvement, seen in communication, social responsiveness, and family quality of life for children, though there is still a long way to go in fully understanding the full range of benefits of music therapy for people living with ASD.

Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

Music therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease

Music therapy has been shown to be effective with older persons who live with physical, psychological, cognitive, or social challenges, even in clients who are resistant to other forms of treatment and this has a knock-on effect of physical enjoyment, positive mood changes.

Music is well placed to reach sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease because music has a connection to memory, creating an often-immediate response in the client due to the familiarity predictability and the sense of security that known songs or patterns can evoke.

In a 2019 meta study of 8 separate viable studies, it was found that intervention with music improves cognitive function in people living with dementia, as well as quality of life after the intervention and long-term depression, showing that music could be a powerful treatment strategy, although more clinical trials are needed to concretise these conclusions.

Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

Music therapy and motor function

Music therapy has much to offer people with diminished or low motor function, in addition to standard care, because of the physical nature of using a musical instrument, but also due to the physical body movement reactions that music can evoke in clients due to rhythmic enjoyment, and physical movements like smiling or eye contact. Techniques are employed to develop and maintain the following:

  • Joint and muscle function
  • Fine and gross motor control and co-ordination
  • Muscle strength
  • Range of motion
  • Cardio-pulmonary and respiratory function (breathing ability)
  • Oral motor skills
Music Therapy for People with Disabilities |

Music therapy and the NDIS

Clinically tested and peer reviewed, music therapy works well, which is why it is a therapeutic intervention that is approved as a professional Allied Health therapy by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and is available under the NDIS scheme to successful applicants.

If you, or someone you help or work with, would possibly benefit from music therapy, then the first thing to do is click this list of registered music therapists. If, however, you or someone you help or work with has difficulty in making such arrangements, it is possible to contact a registered NDIS Case Co-ordinator, such as ConnectAbility, in Newcastle and on the Central Coast, NSW and they can liaise with you and the NDIA to secure funding and a therapist near you.

Visit the ConnectAbility website to learn more about how they can connect a therapist to you, or someone you care for, through the NDIS. Alternatively, call them on 02 4962 1000 in Newcastle or 02 4349 3700 on the Central Coast.

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