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  • Writer's pictureCarla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC

Your Guide to Music Programs in Senior Living Facilities

Given the many benefits of music, it is no surprise that music therapy programs are growing in senior living facilities. Music therapists help residents manage pain, reduce the use of psychiatric medications, encourage creative expression, and improve rehabilitation outcomes.

Even facilities that don't employ music therapists find that volunteers and music listening programs bring benefits to their residents. There is no doubt that more music programs means good things for residents.

What are the differences between having a music therapy program and other music activities? With a limited budget, what is the best type of program to bring to a facility?

This guide explores the benefits, costs, and challenges of four different program options that bring music to senior living facilities.

#1. Volunteer Musicians

Volunteer musicians are a wonderful addition to any senior living facility. Volunteers offer a low-cost way to bring live music to residents and are an essential part of a strong activity program. Volunteer musicians have a wide range of talents and musical styles and can often provide entertainment for large groups, celebrations, and special events. Volunteer musicians often come from the local community, meaning residents may have previous relationships to them. Fostering these local connections benefits not just senior living facility residents, but the entire community.

When implementing a volunteer musician program, it is important to understand the challenges and true costs. While volunteer musicians may not charge for their time, facilities still need to conduct background checks, ensure the volunteers are following infection control procedures, and pay staff to assist with scheduling, set-up, and to monitor performances. Volunteers may not be equipped to cope with certain situations, like a strong emotional reaction from a resident. Staff often need to stay closely involved in order to ensure resident safety and make the experience enjoyable for all.

#2. Music Listening Programs

Music listening programs (like Music and Memory) are another popular choice for bringing music to senior living facilities. These programs typically use iPods or other portable music devices to deliver recorded music. Specific programs vary in their focus on personalized playlists and opportunities for social interaction. In general, benefits of these programs include personalization options, their 24/7 availability, and the ability to train any staff member (even those who don't think they are musical!) to implement the program. Many facilities have experienced positive outcomes from music listening programs, ranging from happier residents to a reduction in the use of antipsychotic medication.

The costs associated with music listening programs include an initial signup cost, annual fees, and staff training and implementation time. These programs require significant buy-in from leadership and staff in order to implement successfully. Particularly when music resides on a new technology (like an iPod), residents need assistance accessing the music. IPods also don't offer the same opportunity for social interaction as live music, and can increase isolation in some residents.

#3. Contract Music Therapist

Facilities looking beyond entertainment often start by contracting with a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC). Music therapists go far beyond just providing music. MT-BC's are healthcare professionals who can design and implement a variety of programs within a facility that improve functional outcomes and enhance person-centered care. Contracting with a music therapist can be a highly desirable complement to existing activity, rehabilitation, and life-enrichment programs.

The cost of contracting with a music therapist depends on the market rate in your area as well as how many hours per week you want them onsite. More hours is obviously more costly, but provides opportunities for consultation and collaboration with other clinical team members. Some facilities initially think these types of contracts are outside of their budget, but creative funding options exists. Grants and donations can help get a program started, as well as opportunities for cost-sharing with families or other community organizations. (Read our post about free & low cost options).

#4. Hiring a full time MT-BC

Bringing a music therapist into your organization as an employee may actually be the most cost-effective approach to improving the lives of your residents. As a trained healthcare professional, an MT-BC is a highly-qualified member of the interdisciplinary team. In fact, you may be able to fill an existing budgeted position at your facility with a music therapist. This approach allows you to begin building a music therapy program without increasing your labor costs. Music therapists may be qualified to fill Activity Director, Residential Care Coordinator, Life Enrichment, Rehabilitation department, and even Administrator positions.

Staff music therapists are specialists in developing varied and wide-ranging programs that improve clinical outcomes and increase resident satisfaction and quality of life. A full time employee can bring group and individual music therapy services to all levels of care, from memory care units, to independent living, to community outreach. Facilities that have music therapists on staff report transformations in their company culture, family satisfaction, and marketability.

A Comparison Guide to Music Programs

Interested in bringing a music program to your facility? We can help! Contact us at 207-812-8662 or

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