Music therapy could help prevent falls in over 65s

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More than three million people are treated for fall related injuries during the winter months, with around 60,000 requiring hospital treatment.

Daniel Thomas, Joint Managing Director & neurologic music therapist at Chroma, the UK’s leading national provider of arts services, suggests winter poses a serious risk of falling to the elderly for a number of reasons:

‘Many older people take numerous medications that may have side effects including dizziness, which pose an increased risk of falling.

‘With age, sensation in feet decline, especially if there is an underlying condition such as diabetes, poor circulation, arthritis or lingering complications following a stroke. With decreased sensation, balance is affected. Slippery surfaces, such as those covered in snow or ice, can further reduce balance increasing the likelihood of a fall.

‘Many over 65s walk with an unstable gait, during any weather. Those who do not exercise have weakened muscles, increasing the likelihood of a fall.’

According to Age UK, falls in the over 65s costs the NHS around 4.6 million a day, and this could skyrocket, with this age group due to represent nearly half of the population of some areas by 2039.

Chroma believes the solution to fall prevention in the over 65s lies within neurologic music therapy (NMT) – the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, affective, sensory, language and motor dysfunctions due to disease or injury to the human nervous system.

NMT relies on engaging with patients to maintain exercise and physical activity, encouraging older people and patients to move more for therapeutic and health reasons. It recruits healthy and un-injured areas of the brain, rather than trying to fix the damaged or ‘broken’ part of their brain linked to the loss of function.

Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) is an important aspect of NMT. Within RAS programmes, strong and predictable rhythmic patterns are used to guide the sensori-motor movements required for walking. Predictable rhythmic structure allows the sensori-motor system to move in sync with the beat. Stroke patients have reported improved stride length and symmetry with RAS.

Daniel suggests, ‘Music with high beats per minute (BPM) promotes movement, good cadence and walking speed, so songs like Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots are Made for Walkin, which has 85 BPM is ideal.

‘Walking speed correlates with functional ability and balance confidence. It has the potential to predict future health status, the risk of falls and a client’s fear of falling. BPM strongly correlates to step cadence, and therefore walking speed. Improved walking speed equates to improved balance.

‘Increased muscle strength, gait and walking speed are all necessary factors required to reduce the risk of falls in the elderly. NMT has proven itself to be a cost-effective intervention to help improve such factors, and as a result, enhance the wellbeing and health of the elderly and the healthcare sector simultaneously.’

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