Hospice music therapy a comforting sound

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Edwin Scherzer for Walworth County Today | July 30, 2013

JANESVILLE — Hospice. The word can conjure up all sorts of emotions, especially for those families having a loved one spend their final days with the living. Sadness, anger and helplessness merge in a blur of tears and unanswered questions. For the patient, time literally can seep away or not come soon enough.

But officials at Mercy Home Health & Hospice are hoping that a new therapy can help provide comfort during that time.

Music used as medicine has been around for centuries, said Nancy Bracken, director of Mercy Home Health & Hospice.

“Ancient Greek philosophers believed that music could heal both the body and soul, Native Americans used singing and chanting as part of their healing rituals for hundreds of years, and during World War II, the U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals began to use music to treat returning veterans suffering from shell shock,” Bracken said.

There is science to back up Bracken's claims.

“Researchers have found that music therapy, when used with anti-nausea drugs for patients, can help ease nausea and vomiting,” Bracken said. “In hospice patients, one study found that music therapy improved comfort, relaxation and pain control.”

Mercy plans to leave the choice of music in the patients' hands. Some may prefer to have an audio CD or a live musician in their home.

The style of music will be as broad as the patient base itself. Because hospice patients come into the program at all ages and backgrounds, patients and their families will be able to choose the type of music — from classical to country.

“We want to be able to offer all types of music, including children's songs, rock, country and big band selections,” she said. “If the patient has a preference, we will do our best to meet their request.”

Bringing volunteers into the new program will take time, and the program is seeking donations of recorded music, CD players and, most importantly, musicians willing to donate their talents.

Hospice volunteer Olive Hamilton understands how important a personal visit is to hospice patients and their families.

“My mother was a patient of Mercy hospice many years ago. She looked forward to when the hospice volunteers came to visit with her, and for that I was so appreciative,” said Hamilton, of Janesville. “Before she passed, I told my mom that I was going to become a hospice volunteer one day. I've been a Mercy Hospice Care volunteer for over five years now.”


Treatment through music

Music therapists are more than just someone with a heart for healing and an acoustic guitar. Music therapists are certified professionals in their field.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, post-graduation candidates must pass an examination from a qualifying board. It's not enough they possess a good bedside manner and musical talent, because they are viewed as part of an overall treatment program in hospitals and clinics across the country.

 The Mercy music therapist will be an extension of treatments that already exist within their range of services, Bracken said. Mercy's mission statement mirrors this newest addition in simple terms — “to provide healing in the broadest sense.”

  “We certainly advocate for evidence-based care at all times for our hospice patients, but we are also open to supplemental approaches that may enhance the quality of care we give, especially for symptom relief,” Bracken said.

There is no hard and fast timetable for adding the musicians, but hospice officials hope musicians, both amateur and professional, will want to donate their time when they can.

The new program is a collaboration between the community and Mercy's hospice arm, reaching out to those in need.

“We believe once our musicians see what a difference their music can make in the lives of our patients, they will find more and more time to donate to our program,” Bracken said.

Volunteers will be asked to complete an orientation program. Mercy not only serves Rock and Walworth counties, but also Green County, and parts of Dane and Jefferson counties, and officials expect hundreds of encounters in the future.

When those visits do occur, Bracken said one of their goals will be fulfilled.

“It's hoped the enjoyment of a patient's music choice will enhance their quality of life during their last days while also bringing a feeling of serenity and well-being along with a returned sense of control,” she said.

In the end, a feeling of peace, while a patient keeps time to the music, could be the best medicine one could ask for.        



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