To say there has been a recent increase of videos on the web highlighting the power of music with individuals with dementia would be a vast understatement. From caregiver videos flooding YouTube to more carefully crafted films, such as Alive Inside, exploding on the scene, the individual stories being told are nothing short of remarkable.
But what does this mean for us as speech and language pathologists? And what does research say about the overwhelming number of anecdotal stories being touted on the internet? The answer to both questions is, A LOT! Many resources, such as the nonprofit organization MUSIC & MEMORY, now offer an extensive list of research citations that highlight the clinical benefits that listening to music can have on cognition and communication. It’s not just researchers taking notice of the mounting evidence. As the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services makes a push to decrease inappropriate use of antipsychotic drugs in long-term care settings, some of its efforts go toward funding personalized music programs to help address agitation and other behavioral concerns in a non-pharmacological way. Many states are also embracing this approach with great clinical outcomes to report.
So do we all switch professions and become music therapists? Of course not. The need for skilled speech therapists to directly target cognitive-linguistic deficits in long-term care settings is more important now than ever as the aging of our population and the dramatic rise in dementing illness converge, but the research and these dramatic personal stories should make us take pause and reconsider the environments in which we practice. As therapists we have a unique opportunity and perspective to be client advocates.
What information can we share, what videos can we show and whose life can we touch to be a catalyst for change in our communities? Consider your impact and take action today. Still need convincing? Let me leave you with one final image. Watch as Naomi Feil, founder of Validation Therapy, makes a power connection with Ms. Gladys Wilson. I wonder how many speech therapy screen forms were sitting in her medical chart stating she was “non-communicative” when this was filmed.
Robert Maxwell, MA, CCC-SLP is a speech-Language pathologist and clinical specialist for Genesis Rehab Services. He currently chairs the dementia special interest group for Genesis Rehab Services and has presented on the company, local, state and national level with regards to cognitive-linguistic and swallowing deficits related to the dementia population. He can be reached via email at: Robert.Maxwell1@genesishcc.com.