Listening to music has documented health benefits. According to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, music can “reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.” That makes it an ideal strategy for improving wellness in older adults.

With grant funds from POAMN, Rumple Memorial Church in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, created a therapeutic music program for older adults in their community. The project was a collaboration with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Appalachian State University.

Each month from April to September 2022, members of the community met at the church. Led by a music therapist from the university, participants shared how they were feeling and about events from their lives with the group. Throughout the sessions, they explored these feelings and events by using music in a variety of ways.

They sang songs and created new ones by writing their own lyrics to familiar melodies. Using instruments provided by the therapist, they also made music and discussed how the activity made them feel.

In each session, the therapist led guided meditations and music-assisted relaxation experiences. Participants also enjoyed refreshments and time to socialize as part of the program.

“The program was a success at bringing together older adults from Rumple as well as nearby Baird’s Creek Presbyterian, plus the surrounding community,” shared Annie Tarbutton, chair of congregational care at Rumple Memorial PC.

Many participants described the sessions as peaceful, restoring, and renewing.

In addition to benefiting participants, the project yielded a surprising bonus.

Prior to its start, Rumple’s music minister, David McCollum, connected with a local therapeutic harpist and told her about the program. She wholeheartedly supported it and attended most of the sessions. Together, they were inspired to create harp music for worship, funerals, and for the sick and dying.

Annie Tarbutton is chair of congregational care at Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Learn about the Rumple Memorial congregation

This article originally appeared in the 2023 Older Adult Ministry Planning Guide.