09 July 2018

Florence was referred to music therapy because she is living with a form of dementia. She has trouble expressing herself and often withdraws from others. Elisha Evanko, a board certified Brookdale Hospice music therapist, is working with Florence to increase self-expression, decrease isolation and elevate her mood.

On a recent visit, Elisha strummed the guitar and crooned Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.” After she stroked the last chord, she looked at Florence and repeated the lyrics, “When you walk in a dream…” Without looking up, Florence started telling Elisha about a recent dream involving a youthful memory of having a picnic under an apple tree with her sister. Elisha then used the specific memory to rewrite one of Florence’s favorite songs, “What a Wonderful World.”

Through music therapy, Florence engaged, participated in the impromptu songwriting session and reminisced about childhood antics. The music therapy session validated Florence’s thoughts, dreams and experiences. When it was over, she bid a tearful thank you to Elisha for the personal song, and smiled. With a new sense of purpose and an elevated mood, Florence was ready to leave her room and engage with other residents, something she hadn’t felt up to in days.

This is what Elisha does on a daily basis. As a certified music therapist, she regularly reminds people that she is not an entertainer; she is a therapist who uses music as a tool for healing. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, patient’s abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives.”

Music therapy is a complex and often misunderstood therapeutic practice. Brookdale offers music therapy through its 19 hospice agencies across the country because it is dedicated to finding holistic, interventions for residents and patients. It is the topic of July’s Optimum Life Continuing Education series, which focuses on music's ability to make a therapeutic difference. Music Therapy for Holistic Pain and Symptom Control, hosted by Elisha, explains how music therapy impacts social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and cognitive functioning, and in turn may decrease pain, alleviate anxiety and promote emotional expression and positive coping skills.

In the webinar, Elisha breaks down the complexities. Much like a pharmacist uses medications to treat symptoms, trained music therapists also use music to treat appropriate symptoms.. Like other clinicians, music therapists assess a patient’s needs, design a treatment plan and evaluate its effectiveness. Treatments include:

-        Purposeful and intentional listening, where the patient and therapist talk about the music or specific lyrics, how it makes them feel or how it reflects their current sense of self.

-        Reminiscence, which is commonly used in memory care settings to stimulate memories.

-        Improvisation, which allows patients to create their own music and express feelings and organic ideas creativity either vocally or with an instrument.

-        Recreation, which allows patients to sing along or play an instrument to their choice of music.

-        Composing and songwriting is used to help patients express their own thoughts and wishes, especially at the end of life. Legacy song creation is frequently used in hospice where the therapist works with the patient and family to write a song about the patient’s life or the message they want to leave with the world.

 “Music is innately in us. The first sound we ever hear is the stable, soothing rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat,” said Elisha. “We are all linked to music; it impacts our brains, our physical bodies and our souls. Music therapists use that innate human connection to music with empirically supported interventions to promote health and wellness.”

Music is a powerful medium for holistic health as it has the unique capability to simultaneously treat all parts of a person. The American Music Therapy Association notes that, “music therapy provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.”

Elisha experiences this phenomenon every day in sessions with patients like Florence.

If you are interested in registering and attending Music Therapy for Holistic Pain and Symptom Control for professional credit, visit the Continuing Education page on Brookdale’s website. 

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