by Karyn Stuart-Röhm
I embarked on my PhD journey in 2020 through the University of Melbourne with great excitement, thankfulness and a little bit of trepidation. I knew what I wanted my research focus to be and with the help of my incredibly knowledgeable and supportive supervisors, I refined it into what it is now. My project aims to design and test a formal caregiver-delivered therapeutic singing approach, within a person-centered care model, for persons with dementia. It also aims to explore person-centered caregiver singing as a viable tool for the promotion of person-centered care and to ascertain what music therapy-informed skills are helpful to formal caregivers in their care of persons with dementia. I really hope to contribute to the training available to former caregivers in South Africa.
My first study is a systematic mixed methods review to examine research on the training of formal caregivers in live music interventions within care situations with persons with dementia. Findings from analysis of nine included studies show that training should be incorporated into staff education as it benefits the delivery of person-centered care by supporting communication, easing care, and capacitating caregivers to meet the needs of persons with dementia. There are skills required of the caregivers that music therapist can share: confidence, flexibility and adaptability when applying music. Recommendations for further research include larger sample sizes to support generalisability; longer-term studies to address sustainability of training effects (Stuart-Röhm et al., in review).
The big project is the refinement of the person-centered caregiver singing workshop. The initial design was based on my experiences with formal caregivers during my years of facilitating music therapy sessions at residential care homes. It incorporates theoretical frameworks like personhood (Kitwood, 1992), the music child (Nordoff & Robbins, 1977) and the introduction of musical elements and basic music therapy skills such as matching and mirroring.
Using an action research design (qualitative), eight formal caregivers (from two care homes) and I went through an iterative cycle (four rounds) of: attending the workshop, applying the skills in care routines; semi-structured interviews to reflect on their experiences, and amending the workshop.
The outcome is a clinically relevant and useful training programme for formal caregivers. Data analysis for this study is complete and results are being written up for a peer-reviewed journal. Results have been very positive.
This led to a mixed methods feasibility study in which the training is tested with a larger cohort of formal caregivers to ascertain its applicability and generalisability across several care homes. Using a Likert questionnaire (quantitative) with space for comments from the formal caregivers (qualitative), data on their experiences of applying the person-centered caregiver singing training in daily care with those with dementia was obtained. Statistical and thematic content analyses are underway, and results will be written up for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
I have about 11 months left before I need to submit my whole thesis! Eek! I’ve chose to do PhD by publications, so these three studies will be weaved into the write up of the thesis. Still so much to do! The journey so far has been rewarding and scary: from the amazing opportunities and financial support from University of Melbourne, collaborating with arts therapy researchers from around the world, and gaining confidence in my writing and research skills, I’m enjoying the start of what will hopefully be a rewarding career in music therapy research.