As a new staff member to the Blessing Hospice & Palliative Care team, I have been spending a lot of time learning from my more experienced and incredibly knowledgeable team members. On a very chilly winter day, we were informed that one of our patients was experiencing increased discomfort and restlessness. Our staff chaplain asked me to accompany him to visit the patient to offer prayers and visit with the family.
Upon arrival, the patient had just received some medicine to ease the discomfort, but the restlessness just wasn’t going away. After introductions, our chaplain offered a few words of kindness and prayer, but the patient was unable to focus due to those stubborn arms and legs that would not be quieted. At that point, the chaplain tried a different approach and began singing “Amazing Grace.” I don’t know if it was the melody, the familiar words or something else greater than those of us gathered in that room, but a few lines into the song, the patient became still. Those willful arms stopped grasping for blankets; those agitated legs stopped having spasms.
What a powerful moment to witness!
Nationally acclaimed dementia expert Teepa Snow notes that even patients who are in the throes of dementia are often able to recognize rhythms, vocal patterns (such as your voice going up at the end of a question) and forms of music. The right hemisphere of the brain holds these aspects, and dementia tends to attack the left side of the brain which includes things like comprehension and verbalization.
Music has been found to provide comfort to folks with a variety of illnesses, and using music therapeutically actually dates back to the ancient Greeks. According to a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, family members of terminally ill patients frequently note an improvement in mood and physical relaxation for themselves and their loved one in the presence of music.
Another of our patients greatly enjoyed music and found much pleasure in listening to the radio. Upon his passing, a dear friend donated several radios to our program to be shared with hospice patients who would like to have a personal radio in their living quarters. “Harold’s Radios” are available to any of our patients who wish to seek comfort, joy or solace in music during their remaining days. We are very proud to offer these radios as a form of therapy and also as a wonderful memorial to our former patient.
When a loved one is in pain, our first instinct is to find a medical way to alleviate their discomfort. And while medications can be an important part of a care regimen, consider also some alternative ways, such as music, to help your loved one find some comfort.