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Music Matters: Optimizing Music in Complex Care and Rehabilitation

February 27, 201927 February 2019

Arts and health

Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, University of Toronto Music and Health Research Collaboratory, and Room 217 Foundation


Dr. Michelle Nelson, Bev Foster, Dr. Lee Bartel, et al.

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Based on mostly qualitative data obtained through patient focus groups as well as stakeholder and staff consultations in a rehabilitation and complex care hospital, this report explores how music care could be delivered and evaluated in complex care environments. The report defines music care as “an emerging approach that allows the therapeutic principles of sound and musical effect to inform our caring practices. Music care is not a specific practice, rather a paradigm within which music enhances quality of life and plays an integral role in care and care settings.”

Although the hospital already offered some music programs, the researchers sought ideas and feedback from patients, experts, and other stakeholders on ways to improve the delivery of music care, through modifying the built environment and improving program offerings. The consultations consisted of a guided tour and focus groups with 29 outside experts affiliated with the care facility, including architects, artists, designers, professional musicians, composers, music educators, and patients’ family members. Patients were asked to share “their lived music experiences” during a focus group session, and staff were consulted via an online questionnaire. Idea boxes at nursing stations and common areas allowed for additional feedback from patients, as well as from visitors, staff, and other community members.

During the focus groups, many patients “expressed that music-making [is] a means of building community that gives them a sense of belonging” and that equitable access to music-making is very important. While the patient group focussed on the personal and social aspects of music, the outside experts directed comments more toward space and design considerations.

The research team provided a conceptual framework with which to understand and plan for music care, including ten domains:

  • “Community Music (e.g., outside musicians or entertainers invited in to perform)
  • Music Care Specialties (e.g., musicians with some specific training for music and wellbeing)
  • Music Therapy (e.g., therapists skillfully using music in a therapeutic relationship)
  • Musicking (e.g., informal and spontaneous use of music in the community)
  • Music Programming (e.g., formal use of music within programs by staff)
  • Music Technology (e.g., technology used to deliver music for a therapeutic goal)
  • Sound Environment (e.g., intentional sounds for wellbeing)
  • Music Medicine (e.g., prescriptive use of music strategies)
  • Music Care Training (e.g., training for caregivers to integrate music into practice)
  • Music Care Research (e.g., evidence-based research using music strategies)”

This framework was used to map the 564 ideas generated through the focus groups and consultations, with the goal of developing a music care plan for the hospital that could “support improved quality of life and outcomes for patients with multiple chronic conditions”.

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