You may have seen or heard of the music therapy movie, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory” that illustrates how social worker Dan Cohen uses pre-recorded music to stimulate and engage senior citizens and others who are institutionalized. You might expect me, a board-certified music therapist, to say, “Yea! The establishment is catching on!” And you would be right. I am thrilled that these senior citizens who rarely respond to any other stimulation have been afforded the opportunity to “come alive” by being exposed to music they know, love, and connect with.

The interview clips of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ and Dr. Connie Tomaino’s expertise lead the viewer to an understanding of why music is such an effective “treatment” for these people, and I think that gives validity to the introduction of music-base therapies to residents of institutions. Yes, this personalized music program is a wonderful thing and I think it should be happening everywhere!

But…what troubles me is that there is no mention of the board-certified music therapist who, in my opinion, would be best qualified to facilitate the musical and interpersonal intervention. The personalized ipod music list is a great start, but it is just that, a start. A board-certified music therapist would take the intervention a step further and use their training to engage the client in conversation about the memories and feelings evoked by the music. (Dan’s mission was to give out free i-Pods and headphones, but he could only be in one place at a time to engage those receiving the music.) Should a musical intervention elicit a desired behavior, the board-certified music therapist, using live music, can often encourage the client to stay engaged in that desired behavior for a longer period of time than a single pre-recorded song might. Even better, the MT-BC would use patient-preferred music to induce calm during times of agitation, or for stimulation when one is apathetic. Because we usually use live music, we can spontaneously change the tempo or key to suit the client’s voice or movement capabilities for desired levels of stimulation.

I admire Dan Cohen’s tenacity toward equipping today’s senior’s with music they love and connect with, and I share his desire to improve the quality of life of our aging population. Just imagine the benefits of introducing board-certified music therapists (MT-BCs) into the homes where many of our seniors are now living, combining the stimulation of the music and the personal touch of a caring music therapist. I can hear the singing and see the toes tapping now! But of course-that is because I do see it every day when I bring music therapy to a number of our local Assisted Living and Memory Care facilities!

-Lisa Lorenzo, MT-BC, NICU MT