Healing Sounds: Stockton Study Shows Potential for Music Therapy at Seashore Gardens

Music plays a regular part in our activities here at Seashore Gardens Living Center (SGLC). Whether it’s a concert on our Boardwalk, a sing-a-long, or a drum circle, our residents enjoy music throughout the week. We’ve found that music connects them to memories, and often brings a smile to their faces.

These past five weeks, we’ve explored music in a new way. Three Stockton University students chose SGLC for the site of a five-week research study, to determine the effect of music therapy on older adults with dementia and other disorders. Nicole Fernicola, Danielle Aydelotte and Shayna Patel, undergraduates in Stockton’s Public Health program, recently presented their findings to the SGLC Board of Directors, describing how music therapy had made a difference with several of the residents whom they studied.

“Our hypothesis was that the residents who participated in music therapy would become calmer, better oriented and eventually be able to reduce or eliminate medications,” said Patel.  “We did see evidence in our findings of behavioral changes.”

The residents chosen for the study have been diagnosed with dementia, anxiety, depression and/or Alzheimer’s disease. They ranged in age from 71 to 95. The students conducted an initial session to determine each resident’s musical preferences. They then put together a personalized song list that ranged from the 1920s to the 1980s, as applicable, and which featured artists from Billie Holiday to the Bee Gees.

Then, over a period of five weeks, the students each met with two residents, twice weekly, for sessions lasting from 10 to 30 minutes, depending upon the attention span of the resident. Residents listened to the music selections on the Never2Late computer, specially designed for elderly users. The results were encouraging, according to the students, who said they would “definitely continue the project long-term” if they were able.

“One of my residents was very repetitive in her speech,” said Aydelotte. “By the end, she was able to repeat facts back to me in conversation.”

“I had a resident who was very agitated at first,” said Fernicola. “He would curse and yell. By the end, we were able to talk about how music had affected his life. He had been a DJ at Lenape Park. My other resident was not very social on the floor, but by the end, she was much friendlier.”

“Neither of my residents were very social at the beginning,” said Patel. “Music played a part in helping them interact.”

The three students study with Ronald Caplan Ph.D., associate professor of Public Health at Stockton University, who serves as a board member of SGLC. The project was reviewed and approved by our medical director, Alexander Lieberman, M.D. We look forward to exploring music therapy with more residents, as the opportunity arises.

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