Therapist Tunes In To Clients' Needs For Better Health



Building muscle by banging a drum. Battling Alzheimer's with a song. Lifting weights with your mouth.

Welcome to the world of music therapy.


Music therapist Kay Huddleston plays "And The Band Played On" for the residents at the Powell House in Payson. Huddleston works with older adults who are battling Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and chronic pain. She also provides music therapy for children, some as young as 18 months.

Music therapy has been around for about 60 years. The first degree program offered -- in the world -- was from Michigan State University.

The American Music Therapy Association represents just fewer than 5,000 music therapists in the United States, one of which makes her place right here in Payson.

Kay Huddleston, M.T.-B.C., N.M.T., is a music therapist and Ox Bow Estates resident. She has been working in music therapy since 1988, and currently has 65 clients in Payson.

She treats young children and older adults who are struggling with problems such as autism, Alzheimer's disease and chronic pain.

"I get instant and continuous gratification," Huddleston said. "I learn to watch for the little tiny things that are different, better, stronger. I see it."

"I've never failed with a child. I've always done some good."

Music stimulates all of the senses and involves the child at many levels, which facilitates many developmental skills. Enjoyable music activities are designed to make children feel better about themselves, according to the AMTA.

When Huddleston meets a new child, she starts out with a song she made up about herself.

"Then together we make up a song about the child," she said.

Huddleston's musical arsenal includes drums, a child-sized guitar, a tambourine and an assortment of rhythm instruments.

Each instrument can help the child in a different way. If the child is having trouble walking, walking to the beat of a drum can smooth out his or her rhythm.

It's the same with talking.

With the help of a percussive instrument, the child can learn the rhythm of a sentence.

"Everything has a rhythm to it," Huddleston said.

She added that even the small weight of an instrument could help. Huddleston worked with a child who had little muscle tone in his arms, so she placed a drum up high and had the child bang on the drum.

The repetitive lifting and tapping helped him build up his arms.

Huddleston works with children as young as 18 months old, and most of them have some physical or emotional disability.

She said she has learned to be more patient and flexible -- ready to improvise at a moment's notice.

"It's made me view everyone differently," Huddleston said. "I don't think about what kids can't do. Once you've learned that, you've licked everything."

"They're not learning new skills, they're regaining old skills."

AMTA reports that music therapy can help older adults in a number of ways, including memory recall, positive changes in emotional states, stress reduction and social opportunities.

Huddleston works with several older adults at the Payson Care Center and the Powell House in Payson. The process is very different than with children, as most of the older adults are suffering from Alzheimer's disease or chronic pain.

At the Thursday session at the Powell House, Huddleston sat with a guitar on her knee and sang with four of the women there.

Sometimes Huddleston suggested a song, but there were plenty of requests from the audience. They all sang the songs together -- sometimes twice -- then Huddleston would break to do a little therapy.

"By the light?" she said.

"Of the silvery moon," they answered.

Part of the therapy is to play games with songs, trying to get the participants to remember the words or title of an old song.

They sang "And the band played on", "Swanee River", "Amazing Grace" and "Old Gray Mare" on Thursday. The women remembered most of the words.

When they're not singing, Huddleston shares some of her childhood memories, which sparks similar memories in the residents. She told a story Thursday about plucking and cooking chickens, and hating the smell of burning feathers.

Immediately a woman jumped in with her own story of watching a chicken run around with its head cut off.

The songs and memories brought laughter to the women, one of which readily admitted that she's "slipping".

Huddleston said she has seen improvements from music therapy in other elderly clients.

One woman she treated had three strokes and the last one took her voice. She was embarrassed to go out because no one could understand her when she tried to speak.

With Huddleston's help, the woman worked on making sounds. Huddleston even made a little weight for the woman's mouth, consisting of a Popsicle stick with pennies glued to it. Together they strengthened her mouth and vocal chords, and soon after the woman attended her class reunion and started golfing again.

Another woman suffered an aneurysm that took her voice and left her with very little movement.

Huddleston taught the woman to work with a keyboard that played songs. Soon the woman knew how to say, "I love you" to her husband -- by playing, "You are my sunshine".

"I can see it being used in all hospitals."

Huddleston said she would love to be starting out music therapy right now. Technology like Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which takes pictures of the brain and body, shows the areas of the brain that are stimulated by music.

AMTA has done years of research, highlighting the benefits of music therapy in pain management, autism, Alzheimer's disease and more.

"I can see it being used in all hospitals, in the operating room, using it in labor and delivery," Huddleston said.

Currently Arizona State University is the only university that offers a music therapy degree.

For more information on music therapy, visit "http://www." #or contact Kay Huddleston about music therapy, e-mail her at

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