In April of this year, Sebastian River Medical Center – in collaboration with Vero Beach’s Visiting Nurse Association – turned back the clock at least 2,400 years to bring an ancient healing aid to the hospital’s transitional care unit.
The idea of music as a healing influence goes back at least as far as Plato, and modern science agrees with ancient philosophers about music’s beneficial effects.
“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” Maryland’s Johns Hopkins Medical Center reports. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.
“Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory.”
Moreover, says Bernadette Haugh, director of rehabilitation at the Sebastian hospital, “music is rhythmical and rhythmical things help facilitate movement, and that’s huge. Getting people to use music can help facilitate their movement, which is a key factor in them getting better and feeling better.”
Her claim is backed up by the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, which says that “when used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, music therapy has been found to help reduce pain and discomfort; improve mood and diminish stress; increase quality of life and allow patients to better communicate their fears, sadness or other feelings.”
While SRMC’s music therapy program is just starting out, VNA’s board-certified music therapist Mabel Ortiz is already working with individual patients and “collaborating with the occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists” to improve patient recovery.
Ortiz says she is seeing good results.
“One of the patients started with a pain [level] of eight on a numeric scale but at the end of just one visit, when asked, his pain had been reduced to a two,” Ortiz says. “He said, ‘Oh, wow, I can’t even believe I just like got up and moved with the music [and now feel so much better].’”
Of course, deciding on what music to play for which patient requires a little digging.
Lisa Truman, director of nursing at the transitional care unit, explains: “One of the things that we do as a team, between the nursing staff and the physical therapy team, is meet the day before Mabel comes in [to do music therapy]. We have this referral and assessment sheet we utilize to document the patient’s preferences.”
That’s important, because, as Ortiz points out, “the music that is going to be the most powerful and that will benefit the patient the most is the [music they] prefer.”
So just what does it take to become a “board-certified” music therapist?
Time. And talent.
According to the University of Michigan’s medical school, “board-certified music therapists train for 1,200 hours with patients and healthcare professionals.”
“You have to be proficient in voice, guitar and piano and then you have to also pass a proficiency in drumming and other instruments that you may be using in therapy,” Ortiz adds.
The National Institutes of Health is on board the music therapy train, too. It says “music therapy not only helps patients cope with their negative emotions, it can also be used to benefit patients in a complex way as music is the most fundamental and unique form of art that affects people spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically.”
Make no mistake. Music therapy does not directly cure or force any individual disease or condition into remission, but according to NIH, music therapy “can make a real difference in the way patients cope with their treatment and rehabilitation programs.”
Music encourages participation in exercises and activities and can trigger the production of dopamine and serotonin – neurotransmitters that may assist in the treatment of patients with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia and stroke.
Truman, Haugh and Ortiz are hoping their nascent music therapy program strikes a chord with SRMC patients.
Lisa Truman is the director of nursing at the Steward Medical Group’s Sebastian River Medical Center transitional care unit at 13695 U.S. 1 in Sebastian. Her number is 772-388-4398.