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IKF Blog
Posted: Friday, September 29, 2017

Residents find creativity, connections and calm through music

Music is the only kind of sensory input that lights up all parts of the brain at the same time. 

“Because of that, when we’re involved in listening to or creating music, we’re able to access memories and our motor cortex, which controls our voluntary movements,” says Sara Miller, music therapist at Ingleside at King Farm. “It’s a unique way of approaching wellness.” 

The physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of wellness can all be addressed with music, Miller says.

 Rhythm is an integral component of music and an important part of our lives—think about heartbeats, breathing and walking pace. Coordinating music and movement can be helpful in rehabilitation programs. 

“We partner with physical and occupational therapists using music in their treatments,” Miller says. 

Because of the positive associations people have with music, it’s a nonthreatening way to help people process emotions and it’s especially valuable in working with people with memory impairment. 

Miller leads a group called Music and Memories. “We listen to songs and talk about what it makes you think of—where you were when you first heard this song, what it means to you and what experiences you had around this song,” she says. “We also do a lot with music in the evenings, setting a tone in the Memory Care Neighborhood and Skilled Nursing for winding down for the day.” 

Because music can help bring people together, Miller is working on a unique intergenerational music therapy program. Students from the Goddard School, located next door to Ingleside at King Farm, visit the retirement community’s Memory Care and Assisted Living residents twice a month. The students and residents play instruments and enjoy musical games to learn each other’s names. 

“We use a lot of partner instruments, such as having a resident and student play a drum together, with one holding the drum and the other the mallet, then switching,” Miller says. 

“The main goal is getting the students comfortable and interacting with our residents,” she says. “It’s so important for our younger generation to value our elders, and for our residents to be around those younger generations and still have those interactions in their lives.” 

Miller uses a variety of instruments during this and other music therapy sessions—drums of different sizes, shakers and devices that produce unique sounds such as a frog croaking or the waves of the ocean. Miller often uses these instruments creatively, allowing participants to decide how to play them. 

“Getting to choose an instrument and how to play it fosters creativity and bring a lot of control back to everybody’s life,” she says. 

Miller says she’s always been exposed to music. Her father played the piano, and she learned with him. She started singing at age 4 in her church choir. After finishing high school, she applied to Shenandoah University, planning to pursue a degree in music education. 

“On audition day, I went to a presentation about music therapy and what it can do. I decided to switch; it was the best decision I have ever made,” Miller says. She graduated in 2014, did a 1,200-hour internship at a Florida hospice and became a board-certified music therapist after passing a board exam. Miller also completed additional training in how music interacts with the brain and is certified by the as a neurologic music therapist. She joined Ingleside at King Farm in July. 

While she currently spends most of her time working with residents in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, Short Term Rehabilitation and Memory Care, Miller looks forward to creating new programs that include Independent Living residents as well. 

“There is a huge need for education on how music can help maintain wellness and how we can intentionally use music throughout our day to impact our health,” she says. 

More information about the goals and use of music therapy can be viewed at the website of the American Music Therapy Association.




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