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Music Therapy for Adults with Disabilities by Betsey Zenk Nuseibeh

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R
esearch has proven that music therapy provides a wealth of benefits for people in all age groups and with varying health challenges, from children with autism, to cancer patients to those who suffer strokes, to adults with developmental disabilities, and more.

Studies have shown that when used as a treatment for cancer patients (in addition to conventional treatments), music therapy can help provide pain relief and reduce nausea.

It has also been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. The emphasis in the care for these patients is not on using music therapy as a potential cure, but as an aid to improving the patient's quality of life. One of the most promising and helpful uses of musical interventions is in the area of helping adults with developmental disabilities.

As is true for all age groups with disabilities, music therapy is especially beneficial because it can reach people and help them interact better when speech and other forms of communication fail them. Musical interventions reach some patients who are otherwise unresponsive, such as some adults living with autism.

In a similar vein, music therapy has been found to help older adults suffering from dementia and related diseases. Music triggers memories and emotions, helping these patients regain some awareness of their history. It has also been proved to help them with a host of further benefits:

• They regain a sense of control over their lives.

• Music therapy strengthens their memories.

• It improves their overall mood and emotional well-being.

• It helps them manage pain without the use of drugs.

• It helps increase their social interactions with others. Adults with developmental disabilities are likewise aided by music therapy in the following areas: physical development, cognitive skills and communication—in addition to the improved social skills and increased emotional well-being cited above.

In terms of physical development, the rhythms inherent in music stimulate muscle response, which helps with gross motor skills, especially for adults who struggle with muscle control.

Fine motor skills are enhanced and improved by music therapy in the form of lessons, such as adapted keyboard lessons. Music strengthens cognitive skills for adults with developmental disabilities through a variety of music therapy activities.

Music helps increase the ability to focus on a task by heightening attention. It also helps with memorization by making repetition more palatable and by aiding memory. Its proven soothing effect can also reduce anxiety which sometimes impedes learning. The ways in which music therapy for adults aids communication skills are varied. For one, music can help those who otherwise struggle to communicate by stimulating and helping to regulate speech.

Music and speech are similar functions, but draw on different areas of the brain, so music can sometimes help someone communicate who otherwise struggles with speaking.

The rhythms of music can also help those who speak too rapidly to slow down. Truly, music therapy for adults provides a host of benefits that not only provide therapeutic assistance, but also, as it does for all of us, afford pleasures that enrich life at the most profound levels.



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