The Old Familiar World

The Old Familiar World

Posted by music on December 18, 2009

Sue *

*In view of maintaining our clients' confidentiality, the story of Sue is a composite of the stories of a variety of older people who have participated in Live Music Lounge Music Therapy sessions and who have progressed and improved over the course of their sessions. Her described experience shows the kinds of challenges and communication difficulties older people face and of how Music Therapy can and has helped older people improve their abilities to express and communicate and help them make personal breakthroughs.

The Old Familiar World could describe what Sue was experiencing while participating in her Live Music Lounge for Older People.

Sue is a lovely older lady. However, like many older people, she suffers from dementia. She lives with her family, and is being taken care of, 24 hours a day, by her domestic helper.

When Sue first started to attend the Live Music Lounge, she often just sat still and was comparatively irresponsive during group discussion. She would only show the occasional smile as if she wanted to let people know that she was still there among the group but at that time she was not able to communicate and connect with other people in any other way.

Older People's Psychological Health

Older people do not often share their feelings with others. As their abilities in listening and comprehending conversation, and in cognitive and physical functioning deteriorate, they can become very silent and altogether these conditions can form a situation where it may be easy for other people to treat them as children.

So in facing this kind of situation, wouldn't it feel like, although you have more life experience than most of the people in society, all you can do now is to be cared for by others and “to behave”? And also wouldn't it feel like all you can do now is to sit there and wait for people to do things for you in your life ?

Surely, people who experience such a situation might forget what abilities they have and what he or she can really do since the only expectations others have of them are “to behave” and to just “wait for things to happen”, ... wait for food to be served , ... wait for tea to be poured, ... wait for conversation to be made ....

The Power of Music Making

Sue initially was unable to participate well in the group verbal interchange, including sharing, listening and caring for others. But despite this, she was able, right from the start, to show active participation in the Music Therapy musical improvisation sessions. The Live Music Lounge had provided her the opportunity to rediscover and explore her ability in connecting with people.

In her later Live Music Lounge sessions, Sue was able to share verbally things that she previously could not usually share, act how she could not usually act and function in a way she could not usually function. In her sessions she was made to be able to feel as if she was still very young and full of abilities.

Over the course of the 8 sessions Sue showed extremely marked improvement in the following areas : 
1. Personal sharing
2. Receiving support from other group members' personal sharing
    (usually from the sharing of members with similar experiences to her own)
3. Listening and responding to others
4. Showing care to other group members

Where do we go from here ?

Older people with communication difficulties and challenges can, like Sue, be able to re-awaken or improve their abilities to express themselves and connect with people through Music Therapy.

It may not be easy for us to become conscious and aware of older people's psychological concerns and distresses. Depression is extremely common in later life. It can even impair older people's ability to participate well in the group verbal interchanges, including sharing, listening and caring for others, which can leave older people feeling even more isolated.

To support older people regarding their psychological health, it is important to provide them with a media, such as Music, which they can use to express and communicate and provide a space where they feel safe to share and develop healthy interpersonal connections, and where they can make personal breakthroughs.

By Emma Mak
Director, Music Therapist, The Hong Kong Music Therapy Centre

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