Music Therapy and the Elderly -2

by - Dr. T V Sairam

The Symbolic Distance Created by Music between the Listener and His Traumatic Experiences

Lehtonen (2002) is of the view that it is possible for music to handle internal as external and external as internal. The forms of music function like a "mirror" (Lacan 1971) where the listener sees himself or herself and his or her inner feelings and experiences.Thus, music seems to push traumatic and distressing meaningful experiences aroused by it to such a symbolic distance that there remains no psychic anguish.

According to the American composer, Aaron Copland (1952), "there is something in music that keeps it as if at a distance even at the moment when taking us into its embrace. In other words, even though music tends to shake us profoundly, it is all the time under our control!

This 'ability' of music to facilitate communication/self-communication is attributed to its following characters:

  • Music gives protection to an individual in paranoid situations.
  • Music protects an individual against unhappiness, sadness, incoherence, loneliness and guilt and it is functioning like a pleasure giving transitional object.
  • Music protects an individual against unpleasant feelings and yet, at the same time, gives psychic strength to face and overcome them.
  • Music can also be used in frightening and unpleasant situations, for instance, against silence representing loneliness.

Treatment Procedure for the Elderly

Normally in the treatment of healthy old people group-singing and group-listening are encouraged. It ahs been found that music associated with the vital years of such people helps in activating emotional life and memory. Period music can also be administered to the elderly along with old photo albums and souvenirs.
Some therapists use old songs along with slide show, composed of the old photos, which brought lots of memories about meaningful places and music as well. The normally quiet group started indulging in talk and discussions bringing out stories of their experiences connected to such music and photos.

Recollection by Means of Music Therapy

Music can express personal experiences which cannot be expressed verbally. It can even revive suppressed sides of life, rejuvenating the ageing mindscape. Kärki (1990) used music of the 1940"s in recollection therapy administered to the demented seniors. It became evident that mmories connected with music concerning by-gone times contained abundant material linked with earlier phases of life, joy, sorrow and recollection of friendships, as well as memories about a mother and being a child.


  • McCullough, E C. (1981). An asssessment of the musical needs and preferences of individuals 65 and over. Tucson: University of Arizona.
  • Lehtonen Kimmo (2002). Some Ideas About Music Therapy for the Elderly. [online] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved March 22, 2008, from
  • Sairam, T. V. (2005) 'Proto-ragas: A Boon for the Mentally-challenged' Bhavan's Journal May 15 Issue. 93-95.
  • Sairam, T. V. (2006) 'Music Therapy for Alzheimer's Patients'. Ayurveda and All November Issue. 35-37.
  • Sairam, T. V. (2006) 'Music Therapy for Senile Dementia' Bhavan's Journal Oct 15 Issue. 103-104.
  • Sairam, T.V. (2007) 'The 'Personal' Tempo and the Tempo in Music' Ayurveda and All October Issue. 32-33.
  • Sairam, T.V. (2007) Self-Music Therapy Chennai: Nada Centre for Music Therapy.
  • Salminen K. (1990). Musiikkimakujen muotoutuminen. Musiikkikulttuurin sosiaalistuminen ja enkulturaation ongelmat. Helsinki: Oy yleisradio Ab.(Quoted in Lehtonen,2002)
<<<< Previous
Dr T V Sairam, A serving bureaucrat and a writer, is from F/48B, Hari Nagar New Delhi 110064. For any doubts you can contact him at - tvsairam @ gmail. com