Tapping the power of therapeutic music in long-term care

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Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.
Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.
You know the music you love personally, and how listening to a certain song makes you feel. But how can you tap the power of music to simultaneously enhance the lives of the many people in your and your team's care?

Both clinical research and qualitative observation reveals that the effective use of music in long-term care communities can contribute to specific desirable outcomes. Original research by media healthcare company Coro Health, led by Petr Janata, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, Center for Mind and Brain, (published in the January 2012 “Journal of Music and Medicine”) shows a reduction in agitation and depression in a sample of assisted living community residents by as much as 54%.  

Other benefits include the reduction of medication, the alleviation of depression, the lessening of pain perception, increased cognitive stimulation, social interaction support and more. Therapeutic music stands in sharp contrast to music based solely on popularity, such as that available over the radio. Rather, therapeutic music consists of programs thoughtfully built by a team of music therapists, designers and neuroscientists. While this has traditionally been prohibitively expensive in most long-term care settings, the experts at Coro Health can share key principles about tapping the power of music for you to apply in your own communities.  Additionally, our company has developed an mHealth mobile app that is revolutionizing the delivery of therapeutic music in the long-term care field. Early adopters of Coro Health's MusicFirst include over 1,000 long-term care communities, hospitals, rehabilitation agencies, home health companies, consumers and third party media distributors, supporting over 100,000 people per day.  

Three Fundamentals of Therapeutic Music in Long-Term Care

Here are three fundamentals our team wants to share with you to tap the power of therapeutic music in long-term care.


You know what tempo is if you've ever caught yourself tapping your foot to the beat of a song. What you may not realize is that an up-tempo song speeds up breathing, as well. This can have a chain reaction, increasing heart rate, pulse rate and adrenaline. While an upbeat tempo can be of assistance in stimulating a sluggish riser in the morning, you wouldn't want this same tempo to be playing in the dining room.  By selecting slower tempos, you not only support better digestion, but begin the relaxation process for the evening.


The more complex a song — the more instruments, singers, chord, key and tempo changes and so on — the harder the brain has to work to process the sound.  Simple songs that are lower in tempo are a good choice for lobby areas targeting family members or potential new residents.  You can create an atmosphere of calm and trust by using positive, comfortable music that will help create a safe space for visitors.

Level of Familiarity

Familiar songs engage people on multiple levels with positive outcomes such as the stimulation of memory senses, encouraging social interaction and creating physical engagement by singing, tapping feet and swaying.  Unfamiliar songs can also create physical engagement with the added benefit of stimulating an emotional relationship with a particular space.  However, if used incorrectly or for too long a period of time, unfamiliar music can cause confusion. Whether familiar or unfamiliar, continuous or highly repetitive sounds, especially in a dining environment, become a source of irritation, causing added stress and anxiety. 

As you can see, applying the fundamentals to group situations—such as public lobbies and dining rooms-- requires both knowledge and sensitivity.  The challenge is even more complex when attempting to provide customized therapeutic music one-one-one to individuals who hail from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, musical tastes and personal needs.

With the development of Coro Health's new flagship products, MusicFirst: Eldercare and MusicFirst: Alzheimer's, administrators as well as individuals, family members and professional care providers can access clinically proven, personalized therapeutic music programs drawing on over 1000 hours of music over most mobile devices. 

While still giving the individual the choice of genre, MusicFirst features the selection of personalized therapeutic music with particular outcomes in mind such as Energy, Relax and Sleep.  Advanced options allow healthcare professionals to also tap Activity Music and Dining Music for group use.  The MusicFirst: Alzheimer's app additionally targets outcomes for those suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia and other forms of memory impairment as well as behaviors associated with Sundowning syndrome.

The new mHealth apps are available in the Apple iTunes store. You can download and receive the first three hours for free and then the apps are $9.99 a month for Eldercare and $4.99 a month for Alzheimer's.  

For more information: visit corohealth.com or to download the apps

MusicFirst:  Eldercare

MusicFirst:  Alzheimer's

Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., is the executive director of CoroFaith.

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