Everywhere you go, people are using iPads—taking and sharing photos, reading books and magazines, watching videos, talking to friends and family, searching the Internet, listening to music. These electronic tablets provide so many ways to connect with the world and interact, they shouldn’t be limited to home, school or office. In fact, iPads offer a world of therapeutic opportunities for the nursing home setting.
I work as a music psychotherapist at a skilled nursing home and short- and long-term rehabilitation facility in the Bronx, New York. I started using the iPad2 in June 2010, when I bought one for myself to use as an additional tool for reaching nursing home residents with music. The results were so beneficial that I applied for a grant to get two more iPads for training my music therapy interns how to use them in our individual and group sessions. I also documented all the apps that I successfully used in my daily work with the residents.
Here are some of the many benefits of iPads that we have discovered in our nursing home over the past two-and-a-half years:
Enabling Residents to Play Music with the Tap of a Finger
Many residents suffer from poor fine and gross motor skills, and find it difficult to play an instrument. The iPad makes it possible for those with tremors, muscle weakness and paralysis to play adaptive instruments, expressing themselves in ways that would have been inaccessible with acoustic instruments. By just tapping the iPad screen or sliding a finger, a person can basically play any instrument he or she wants, solo, or as part of a group.
Most instruments are available as apps. Residents can also compose music through Garageband, as well as record songs with or without automated accompaniment. If they wish to listen to music from “the good old days,” residents can use the iPad to search for YouTube recordings of bits and pieces from original concerts, music videos, individual singers or choirs, in any style imaginable. The resident can sing together with the recordings that are familiar, reminisce, maybe even improve short and long term memory.
Helping Residents Share Original Music Compositions on YouTube
Residents can find songs that have significance in their life, connect to feelings about past events, for example, and maybe improve mood and life quality. At the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, where I work, we help the residents make recordings of their own songs and material and then help them to install their creations on YouTube, so family and even the whole world can hear and see. These shared projects are exciting for the residents and proof that that life is not over in a nursing home. Here are three examples:
Discovering a World of Therapeutic Music Apps . . .
Listening to familiar music can have many therapeutic benefits: reminiscing, moving to the music, practicing speech through the songs, remembering important life events and more. Residents can find musical favorites using web services and apps such as Pandora Radio and Grooveshark, which enable search by the musician’s name or song title and can locate similar music at the touch of a button.
There is also a world of specialized music listening apps, such as Nature Sounds, Stress Free Music and Relax Melodies Premium HD; if the resident feels agitated or stressed, she or he can tune in and restore a more peaceful state of mind. To aid with sleep, there is also an app called Sleep Songs Lite.
. . . And Even More Ways iPads Can Improve Quality of Life
For the artistically inclined, there are many apps that enable the resident to draw and paint on “paper,” such as SketchBook Pro, Drawing Pad, Spin Art, Computer Art Therapy and Buddha Board. Residents can take a picture of the art and send it to family and friends.
For those interested in spirituality, there are plenty of options, such as Spiritual Healing Meditation (guided healing), Meditation 4 Inner Wisdom and Daily Gift from Deepak Chopra. If the resident is interested in peaceful movements, there are many excellent yoga apps, such as Pete G Yoga with video instructions.
Residents who enjoy interactive music games have fun playing apps such as Beatwave, a great creative outlet. If hearing is a challenge, there are a variety of loudspeakers that can attach to the iPad, such as the Altec Lansing iM-237 Orbit Ultraportable Speaker or the Jawbone Jambox.
Skyping with Family and Friends to Bring Loved Ones Closer
In addition to all of these therapeutic and creative outlets, iPads are a wonderful tool for communicating with family and friends. Free programs such as Skype and FaceTime enable resident to video-chat with far-away friends and family who share the service, minimizing feelings of isolation and fears of being forgotten.
Residents can also import books, magazines and newspapers to read on iPads, as well as email with friends and family. These devices include a still and video camera, so residents can take photos and make videos for family and friends. Additionally, residents can use the cameras to video themselves, record personal thoughts and keep a journal.
Managing Security Issues
The main challenge with using iPads in a nursing home is ensuring that they don’t get stolen. Options include mounting the iPad securely to a bed, locking it in a drawer when not in use or carrying it in a small bag outside the room.
Additional security measures include installing a personalized password that only the owner knows as well as a trusted friend or family member, in case the resident forgets. The iPad can also be insured.
We have found that some of our residents become very attached to their iPads, as the tablets provide a valuable, easy-to-use way to remain connected to the outside world, as well as a means to maintain a rich inner life.
Based on our experience, I highly recommend buying an iPad for a friend or family member in a nursing home, then sitting down with him or her and practicing to master the basics. If I were living at a nursing home, I would feel helpless without mine. With a little patience and practice, residents can learn how to use an iPad, experience the joys of music and other creative outlets, and feel reconnected to the world.
Benedikte Scheiby is Director of Training and Supervision and Senior Clinician at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, located at the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, a member of Centerlight Health System. A certified and licensed Music Therapist, she has practiced music psychotherapy in a psychiatric and medical context for 32 years. Benedikte is also on the teaching faculty of NYU’s master’s program in Music Therapy. A prolific author and lecturer, she maintains a private practice in Manhattan and is Director of the Institute for Analytical Music Therapy.
Founded in 2010, Music & Memory is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.