♪♪One! Singular Sensation- every little step she takes…♪♪
As a young physical therapist, I operated in a mechanical fashion, prescribing erudite treatments to address my patients’ pain, weakness, and unsteadiness. I was perplexed when these techniques didn’t always work, and even more so, when I couldn’t get patients to participate in my medical repertoire. It took time to appreciate that each person does not respond to my commands as “Siri” or “Alexa” do.
Human beings are complex.
When evaluating a patient with a hip replacement, a stroke, or just being unsteady on one’s feet, there are always more pieces involved, beyond a clinical diagnosis. Other influences, such as not emotionally recovering after the loss of a spouse or feeling depressed because one can no longer drive, or participating in a favorite activity, can impact the healing process.
Frustrated with the inability to reach all of my patients, I changed my approach. Having danced and competed in aerobics since I was young, I developed a love for music, and have songs and rhythms playing in my head. I started playing music, singing, and clapping my hands with those that were not responding favorably to my systematic treatments. The responses were incredible.
I recall a man with mild cognitive impairments, who was constantly falling. He declined my initial attempts to have him stand, close his eyes, and shift his weight from side to side. I started singing “One” from the Broadway show “A Chorus Line” and had him side-step. I added “Fosse Jazz Hands” with his arms extended out at his side. Head tilts and snapping were added on the 4th beat to work on posture and coordination. Not only did our sessions fly by, but the end result was a decreased incidence in falls.
There is significant evidence that music and dance have positive effects in the elderly beyond the experiential anecdote presented above. A systematic review of literature performed by Sarkamo demonstrated that dancing in healthy older adults increased strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, and even cognition. A randomized controlled study by Phoebe demonstrated that both singing and listening to music improved mood, orientation, episodic memory, attention, general cognition, and quality of life in persons with dementia.
Recently, I was trying to figure out a way to work on standing and ambulation with a man who has advanced Alzheimer’s. He wouldn’t budge when I initially asked him to stand, and then even tugged at him, for further encouragement. I started singing Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and gyrated my hips any which way. (I’m certain my 9-year old would have been embarrassed if she ever saw this.) The outcome was hysterical laughing. And then, he stood up. I was able to work on safe ambulation and all sorts of other standing activities with him. This was further reinforcement to me that physical therapy is not limited to the just the physical being.
There is a caveat to the above approach: you must select music that is relevant to the patient. I know this to be the case because prior to “The Twist,” I sang “Who Let the Dogs Out.” The patient’s response… a look indicating that I needed some serious intervention or at the least a better voice.
I believe music is medicinal. Beyond the art form and personal enjoyment one experiences from listening to music, the idea that music is used for healing is scientifically-grounded.
Please contact me here if dance or music has helped you with healing.
Dyan Chaney is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Managing Director of Home Health Boutique LLC.
- Sarkamo, T et al. “Cognitive, Emotional, and Social Benefits of Regular Musical Activities in Early Dementia” Gerontologist. 2104, Aug:54(4):634-50.
- Phoebe Woei-Ni Hwang, et al. “The Effectiveness of Dance Interventions to Improve Older Adults’ Health,” Altern Ther Health Med. 2015, Sept-Oct:21(5):64-70.