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Music Therapy Helps Motivation, Communication

Carla Eckels

Music therapy is having a positive effect on some residents at Wichita's Larksfield Place. The older adults are showing signs of increased motivation and improved communication.

Meg Beck has spent nearly 30 years as a music therapist engaging adults and children with the use of music in hospitals, schools and senior facilities.

Inside the health care center at Larksfield Place, about 10 wheelchair-bound residents between the ages of 70 and 100 sit in a semi- circle. Some suffer from dementia and impaired vision.

Beck instructs the residents to raise their instruments, egg shakers, to Irish music.

"OK, get your arms up above your head, your elbow off your chairs; try to bend your wrist, how fast can you shake it?"

The history of music therapy dates way back.

"We know music therapy has been in existence since the days of King David and Saul," said Beck. "It officially started, the profession of music therapy, during World War II and right after that when many veterans were needing extra comforting and soothing, and music as a therapeutic tool was looked at more clinically."

In 1946, the University of Kansas started the first academic program in music therapy and now there are about 70 universities in the United States with programs.

Music is used as a tool to help people socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and psychologically.

Beck said the practice can help with memory recall because it gets varying parts of the brain activated.

"One gal who has a form of dementia has lived here over a year cannot still remember where the dining room is, but of course when you sing a song, she can sing every verse, every word of almost every song. So that makes her feel good because she gets a lot of compliments for that."

"Sometimes we pass out a conductor's baton to each resident, and I'll put on maybe classical music and then they are so good at being able to follow the beat."

Resident Jack Yinger played the drums during the therapy session.

Carla: What do you think about music therapy sir? Jack: I think it's a very good idea. It gets people involved in things. Carla: What's the best part? Jack: Oh, just being able to express yourself a little bit. Carla: Do you enjoy the conducting or drum playing? Jack: Oh, I just enjoy being here. Carla: Can I ask you how old you are? Jack: I'm 20. (laughing) You don't think I am? Carla: (Laugh) 20? I love it! Jack: (Laugh) Thank you.

Scientific studies have shown the value of music therapy on the body, mind and spirit. Beck says music therapy is a non-threatening medium for many people.

"I would believe that music has been a part of everybody's life," says Beck. "It would be sad to say if somebody hadn't experienced music, and music brings back memories, music is a motivator."

Beck remembers a resident who was toward the "end of her days" and wasn't involved much. But hearing a certain song caused her to sit straight up and smile.

"When things are triggered in your brain, it can trigger something else," says Beck. "Sometimes the effects of music therapy lingers on even after the group is over."