Neurologic music therapy provides significant fall prevention technique in over 65’s

Winter poses a significantly increased risk of falls in the elderly. Each year over three million older people are treated for fall related injuries, and approximately 60,000 of them require hospitalisation usually from hip fractures or head injuries (1). The chances of falling in winter months increase after 65 and increases furthermore after 75 years old.

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 65’s 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 65’s costs the NHS around 4.6 million a day. With the increased risk of falls in cold weather, underlying health conditions, medications and weakened muscles, fall prevention in the over 65’s is a priority. And if current stats are correct, by 2039 there will be some places in the UK with over 45% of their population over 65. If nothing is done about fall prevention now, the costs upon the wellbeing and quality of life of the elderly, as well as the healthcare sector will be significantly higher.

Chroma believes the solution to fall prevention in the over 65’s 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 programs, 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) count promote 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”.

Neurologic music therapy used alongside physiotherapy enables goals to be achieved sooner, due to patient engagement and the way music interacts with the sensori-motor systems of the body and brain.