Long-term care operators use music therapy programs to calm and attract

MJHS music therapist Meredith Traver with a hospice patient and her family.

Music benefits patients and is a marketing tool

With recent studies indicating that music reduces agitation and depression in people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, long-term care operators have begun adding music therapy programs to the services they offer residents. One operator is finding that using music therapy is benefitting the business as well as the residents.

As Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New York City area last October, the residents at the Metropolitan Jewish Health System’s Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care on the beach in Brooklyn remained calm even as the building sustained storm damage. Their calmness was in large part due to music.

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“Residents, especially the non-English speakers, were comforted by music from their homeland,” said Audrey Waters, public relations director of MJHS. “It provided a way to reconnect with what was familiar in a time of transition – because of the weather.”

MJHS offers home care, hospice and palliative care and adult day care services as well as operating rehabilitation and nursing centers in Brooklyn and New York City. It began using music therapy in 2006 as part of its hospice program and is now used in its nursing facilities and even in clients’ homes, Waters said.

“It winds up being a tremendous savings,” Waters said. “The approach isn’t necessarily about the bottom line, but we have noticed that it does make a difference. The care is more effective because the patient is more relaxed, more communicative over time and more wiling to share.” And because music therapy helps to alleviate pain, pharmaceutical costs are reduced.

“To be honest,” said Terry Glusko, director of supportive care services at MJHS Hospice, “it’s probably cheaper to keep the patient on medication all day and not sing to the patient, but what it’s done in terms of giving us a marketing edge – it’s given us more marketshare. We’re the only hospice in New York City that has a vital music therapy program, and it’s helped us tremendously.”

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Glusko said that since first offering the music therapy program as part of its hospice services in 2006, the hospice program has had about a 400 percent growth in census.

“I think the attraction is that we have this unique way of supporting the patients,” Glusko said. “A lot of people are looking for holistic approach to care.”

In addition to the competitive advantage music therapy gives MJHS, there are inferred savings from it, Glusko said. Those include fewer falls due to a reduction in agitation and lower turnover rates of employees, who say participating in or being exposed to the music therapy program adds to their work satisfaction.

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