CLINTON — Music has been described as a universal language. In cultures around the world, people can relate to the rhythmic sounds of music. But now, a growing amount of research is pointing to the value of music in health care as it has been shown to have profound effects on health.
For Mercy Hospice patients, the addition of a board-certified music therapist now complements the care provided and adds a unique blend of physical, emotional and spiritual care for patients who are nearing the end of life and their family members.
“Music therapy is the described as the clinical and evidence-based use of music to address the needs of patients and families,” said Sharon Meister, director of Mercy Home Care and Hospice. “The benefits to music therapy are countless. There are many examples of how it has been shown to help with pain management and how it can provide a level of emotional and spiritual support for patients and family members that otherwise may not have been possible.”
Adrienne Sumpter, MA MT-BC, a music therapist with West Music, now provides music therapy to Mercy Hospice patients in their homes, in nursing homes or even while they are in the hospital.
“Music is hard-wired into our brains; it’s a global process” said Adrienne, adding that the sense of hearing can often be the last sense a person will lose as he or she is nearing the end of life.
Hospice patients can range from being verbal and aware of their surroundings to those who have advanced stages of dementia. Often the most powerful displays of the effect of music can come when a patient hasn’t responded to any other stimuli.
“When I come in (to a patient’s room), I will often hear the family say ‘it won’t help, he won’t know that you’re here,’” said Adrienne. “But I’ll start playing music and will notice that the patient’s breathing will entrain to the rhythm of the music. It will go from very shallow breathing to deeper, calmer breathing.”
In one of her most memorable experiences, Adrienne recalls working with an advanced-stage dementia patient. She was playing guitar and sitting next to him. When she finished, he opened his eyes, looked at her and whispered “beautiful…beautiful.”
“Music can bypass the damaged areas of the brain and make new connections,” said Adrienne. It has been shown to improve respiration, lower blood pressure, lower the heart rate, relax muscles and can help patients manage pain and discomfort.
Adrienne uses a variety of instruments which can have different effects of patients. A Native American flute and Reverie Harp provide calming tones in the pentatonic scale while she uses her voice and guitar for other songs. Varying the instrument and the tempo provide flexibility when working with hospice patients.
Adrienne recently spoke to Mercy Hospice volunteers about the benefits of music therapy to hospice patients. To demonstrate the power of the therapy, she showed a video on how a dementia patient responded by singing words to the tune “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.”
With an undergraduate degree from DePaw University in Indiana and her master’s degree from Lesley University in Boston, Adrienne now shares her musical talents and gifts with many Mercy Hospice patients and family members.
“Hospice can be a difficult time,” said Adrienne adding that music can often provide an environment that not only relaxes the patient, but also eases anxiety, tension and concern for family members as well.