Human beings are governed by rhythms. They influence our heartbeat, the cadence of our speech, and even when we fall asleep and wake up. Perhaps this is why we are so mesmerized by music.

Our relationship to music starts with lullabies when we enter the world, continues through life in various forms (listening to music, dance, singing, playing an instrument, etc.) and helps many of us get through the loss of a loved one.

Entrainment is a phenomenon whereby a person’s biological rhythms become synchronized with the music they’re listening to. Entrainment exerts such a powerful force that simply listening to and focusing on soothing music can help a person enter a more relaxed state of physical and mental functioning. Once a person enters this state, they’re better able to physically and mentally process things, from medications to emotions.

Music therapy is all about the intentional use of music to bring about a particular change; whether that change is therapeutic, emotional or social.  Music therapists work in a variety of different settings (care facilities, hospitals, private homes). In the elder care context, they can be found in senior care facilities, rehabilitation clinics and hospice and palliative care centers, helping aging adults manage everything from chronic pain to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

One well-known application of music therapy is helping people with advanced dementia communicate and engage with their surroundings. Music is particularly beneficial for people struggling with memory loss because it’s easier for them to access the memory of a melody than to recall a person’s name or a past event. The memory of the song stays with them much longer than regular memories.

In some cases, music may be even more powerful than traditional medical interventions, such as prescription medications and physical therapy exercises.

Government Reimbursement for Music Therapy

Professional music therapy services may be covered by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid if certain requirements are met. Music therapy is considered a form of “activity therapy” under Medicare guidelines and must be formally prescribed by a physician to meet a specific goal. A treatment plan must be drawn up and improvement must be proven after a certain amount of time. Guidelines for Medicaid coverage vary by state and may or may not be covered for seniors.