Music Therapy is on the Rise in Singapore

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

You may have heard about a new kind of therapy for your elderly and younger loved ones with conditions ranging from dementia to autism spectrum disorders. Here’s a recap for those of you who are interested in finding out more about music therapy.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy isn’t exactly new. Western doctors have been experimenting with music as a tool for healing since the 50s and 60s. Proponents of music therapy argue that music has had a role in well-being and health for all known civilisations. What’s new, is that more and more institutions and organisations are using music therapy in Singapore.

You’ll find different types of music therapy. Some, like the Nordoff-Robbins approach, are more specifically geared towards children with atypical neuro-development. They focus on using music as a means to communicate with children who might be non-verbal. Other methods are better adapted to elderly patients, to activate forgotten memories or create shared experiences. You might also find music therapy used in hospitals to reduce stress and anxiety, especially with kids undergoing surgery.

Last but not least, some forms of music therapy are passive, with patients listening to music, and others are active, with patients playing. Many are a mix of both.

What are the Main Advantages of Music Therapy for Elderly Loved Ones?

The positive impacts of music therapy are most obvious when considering elderly people with dementia. Because the condition causes loss of memory, any approach that stimulates multiple senses is likely to trigger recollections. So playing music that dates back to when they were young can really help bring back memories and engage. Moreover, it seems more and more apparent that when people are exposed to music, blood flow in the brain increases. This is thought to help improve (or slow down a decline in) cognitive abilities.

You may also remember an article we wrote a few months ago about spending time with loved ones once dementia has settled in. The key takeaway was to find failure-free activities. They help pass time without generating stress or anxiety. Music (and art in general) fall under this scope. You can’t listen “badly”. And if you sing out of tune, in a fun activity, no one’s going to mind.

Listening to music brings joy and activates the brain (photo credit: Shutterstock)

Another interesting aspect of music therapy for elderly people is that it might encourage them to move. Now, Grandad might not boogie all night after listening to all the hit songs from his twenties, but even tapping his fingers or clapping his hands can have significant positive repercussions for his overall health. Generally speaking, you might want to invest in handy objects that allow your loved ones to listen to music easily, like radios, apps, or even a neat walking stick with an integrated MP3 player!

And because elderly people in Singapore (and around the world) are increasingly lonely and bored (many show signs of depression), music’s power to bring people together is absolutely vital to helping our loved ones thrive. Collective music sessions are great opportunities to bond with new people.

What are the Main Advantages of Music Therapy for Kids?

Mounting evidence shows that music therapy helps a vast array of neuro-atypical kids. We looked at an experiment conducted by Harold Russell, a clinical psychologist and adjunct research professor in the Department of Gerontology and Health Promotion at the University of Texas.  It showed that music therapy could help kids with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

His experiment focused on a group of 40 boys with ADD. He would administer 20-minute music sessions on a regular basis for several months. At the end of this period, the boys were outperforming a control group. It seems their concentration skills had improved and they were displaying fewer behavioural problems.

Learning to play is also part of many approaches (Photo credit: Pixabay)

In other types of neuro-atypical kids, music can serve as a bridge. Some children with non-verbal autistic tendencies are able to bond via music. Music isn’t perceived as aggressive or threatening to kids who struggle to interact with the outside world. Some even start using more words thanks to music therapy. But of course, this depends on each case and the types of therapy used.

Just as importantly, kids with non-typical neurodevelopment have the same right to discover their artistic talents. Sometimes we forget, that they too, can be musicians. Interestingly, a whole part of music therapy is mostly about encouraging kids to learn to play themselves. We particularly like Magdalene Wong’s approach. She was recently featured by Hua Hee’s blog (you may remember the card game). She has set up a choir of kids with different needs and they often sing for elderly Singaporeans in specialised homes. Now that’s one way to kill two birds with one stone!

Where can I find Music Therapy in Singapore?

Curious? Want to find out more, for yourself or a loved one? You can reach out to the Association for Music Therapy of SingaporeThere are currently just under 30 registered practitioners, but according to recent trends, it seems that more and more professional therapists will be available.

If you still want to read up more on the current trend, you can check out this article in the Straits Times.

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Mélie Aboul-Nasr

Mélie is an English and French language writer who has worked in consulting and social entrepreneurship. She helps Irisada develop relevant content for carers and customers.

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