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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Music Therapy at CMSS with Nancy Swanson and Northshore Music Therapy, Inc.

For older adults living with memory loss, music therapy can enhance quality of life, decrease stress, and promote communication, confidence, and self-expression. In addition to these emotional benefits, music therapy also has proven advantages for brain function and memory. Hearing a familiar song can aid people with dementia in recalling early memories. Additionally, music stimulates the brain and activates areas that may not otherwise be utilized. This can help to maximize existing brain function. CMSS brings music therapy to residents in our communities to ensure a good quality of life.

Nancy Swanson is a master’s level, Board-Certified Music Therapist and the founder and owner of Northshore Music Therapy, Inc. She has been a Board-certified music therapist for almost 30 years. Nancy is also the Government Relations chair for the Illinois Association for Music Therapy where she played an integral part in helping to pass a licensure bill for music therapists in the state. In her work, Nancy helps people reach their full potential through music. She specializes in working with older adults who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

At CMSS, Nancy holds regular music therapy sessions with residents. In these sessions, Nancy first works with residents to assess their individual needs, such as cognition, motor skills, communication, and vision and hearing acuity. To do this, she begins by playing a familiar song that many residents will recognize. Familiar music can help residents connect with both the activity and other people in the room. It can help residents feel settled, grounded, and comfortable at the beginning of the session. From there, Nancy invites participants to engage with the music, whether it’s by sharing thoughts, feelings, and memories that may emerge, singing, playing a percussion instrument, or simply listening. All music therapy sessions require Nancy to continually make assessments and adjust approaches to ensure participants are engaged and getting the greatest benefit possible from the therapy.

Rhythm and percussion instruments are often utilized in music therapy sessions. When it comes to choosing the right instrument for each resident, Nancy considers physical capabilities as well as an individual’s level of engagement and other capacities. Nancy works to assist participants in taking part in the music-making in a way that allows them to be comfortable and successful.

Despite cognitive decline – music and rhythmic abilities remain. As Nancy put it, “Our brains naturally entrain with rhythm so music therapy and applications, such as percussion playing, are beneficial and can help residents engage, experience positive socialization, and enjoy feelings of mastery.” Oftentimes when residents realize what they are musically capable of, they feel empowered and joyful.

Individuals living with memory loss are not the only ones to benefit from music therapy, music therapy can benefit caregivers and loved ones, helping them find new ways to engage with someone with dementia. Nancy also utilizes her therapy with cancer survivors and adults with Down syndrome. She says, there’s no limit on who can benefit from music therapy. From babies in the NICU to end-of-life care, music therapy strategies can be adjusted to address many healthcare needs.

At CMSS, we are dedicated to helping residents lead enriched and joyful lives, and we’re proud to offer music therapy and programming as one part of achieving this mission. We’re especially grateful to professionals like Nancy who make this offering possible at our communities.

Learn more about Nancy’s work and Northshore Music Therapy, Inc. and follow her on Instagram at

Learn more about music therapy from the American Music Therapy Association.

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