In the psychology courses I took while studying to be a music therapist, I inadvertently skipped over the chapters on Disengagement, Activity, and Continuity Theories of Aging. I had no idea they existed until just recently.

Disengagement Theory struck me the most. I’ve always respected anyone’s decision to say NO to the drum circle, or to say NO to bedside music therapy, or to say NO to playing shakers and dancing. But now my feeling of respect for the NO decision runs deeper. There’s a level of dignity that goes with respecting someone’s choice to decline.

Activity theory of aging

Reading about these three theories of aging has given me a new perspective. All of them come from the 60s, and all of them have been criticized for various reasons:

1. Disengagement Theory of Aging: Social withdrawal benefits both the individual and general society.

2. Activity Theory of Aging: Social activity benefits both the individual and general society.

3. Continuity Theory of Aging: The individual maintains the same personality and activities while adapting according to life course and the past. This theory is an expansion of the activity theory.

(There are tons of resources on these theories. Google them to find some.)

There are music therapy strategies that would fall under all of the above theories. By nature, most of my hands-on work lies under the activity and continuity theories, but I’ve got the urge to explore creative ways to respect a person’s decision to be socially disengaged. The first ideas that come to mind are leaving lots of space and time (obviously) and perhaps eventually offering life review, reminiscence, 1:1 or solitary improvisation, and just plain being in the moment with complete silence and solitude.

Personally, I love alone time. I honor time being by myself only. I cherish my time in complete isolation. Solitude gives me a good balance and shift from my daily social drumming. Yes, I can definitely relate to the Disengagement Theory of Aging.

But now, in light of some good news, I’ve got something to share with you regarding Active Aging.

A couple of days ago, I was published in an International Council on Active Aging resource called Functional U. If you work with older adults regularly, I highly recommend Functional U. You can count on finding some very practical and creative ideas there!

Here is an excerpt of my latest article for Functional U (used with permission):

Music and Exercise: The Match Made in Heaven Exercising with music seems simple enough, but consider taking it a step further by making music at the same time. Try body percussion, clapping, snapping, toe-tapping, and vocal rapping.

Invite your clients to move their arms in a rowing fashion while singing “Row Row Row the Boat.” Invite everyone to use arms to conduct the orchestra while singing a Strauss waltz on “La la la.” Invite everyone to kick their legs up high while pretending they are auditioning for the Rockettes. While kicking, play or sing New York, New York or Give My Regards to Broadway. Invite everyone in the group to move the shoulders rhythmically: “UP… DOWN… Move ‘em around. Again UP… DOWN… Move ‘em around.” The more rhythmical you make it, the more fun and engaging the experience becomes. You can do all of these ideas while playing recorded music OR singing live.

Some things to keep in mind while facilitating simple body percussion and musical movements:

  1. Model the movement. Do exactly what you are inviting your clients to do. Start with exaggerated, purposeful movements, then once everyone catches on, feel free to ease up or drop out. Continue the rhythm and momentum with your voice to conserve your energy.
  2. Make eye contact. Eye contact is the easiest way to stay connected with your clients.
  3. Stay within close proximity. Get even closer to those clients who need extra help or assistance.
  4. Sing or chant with conviction. If you are using live singing instead of recorded music, make sure that you sing confidently with rhythmic intention. Emphasis the movement changes rhythmically with your voice. If you don’t think you can sing, then chant instead. Setting the chant to a definitive, easy-to-follow rhythm will be most effective.
  5. Conserve your energy. If you need to take a deep breath between movements, then guide everyone in taking a deep breath. If you need a slow leg stretch, then guide everyone in a slow leg stretch. This experience is for you just as much as it is for your clients. And self-care is an absolute must when taking care of others.

There is a time and a place for being socially active AND being alone. What do you prefer? Have thoughts or insights? Leave them in a comment below.

If you like this post, you’ll love these:

Land a Job at a Retirement Community
Start Drumming with Older Adults – Lots of Ideas
The Story Behind Drumify Dances for Older Adults

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