Music helps with healing process

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Windsor Regional Hospital was one of the first in Canada to introduce a music therapy program in 2003 that included music in treatment plans in the hospital’s complex continuing care and cancer programs. It was a joint collaboration of the hospital, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and the Music Therapy Centre at the University of Windsor’s School of Music. Funding came from the local group, Transition to Betterness who expressed that “this was a groundbreaking partnership and fits into everything we want for patients” stated Ramza Suruna, chairperson of the organization at the time.

A number of studies since the 1950’s indicate that music improves pain relief, enhances the quality of life for people who are ill and has a huge effect on a person’s mood. It is said that music creates an immune response that affects the patient physically, producing an emotional and cognitive response.

Music is said to make a difference to people with mental health and cognitive needs, Alzheimer’s disease, acute and chronic pain, substance abuse and learning and behavior disorders. The music therapy program treats the whole person, not just the body and can include music improvisation, drumming, songwriting, performance and relaxation. “Music profoundly influences our lives and improves the quality of life for everyone. It is amazing to see the reaction of patients, families and staff when music drifts through the hallways.” says Sandy Curtis, the original project coordinator.

Over the last six years, music therapy expanded to all programs in the hospital including Paediatrics. Children are most reactive to stimulation and the benefits provided through music are profound. As a best practice, Windsor Regional Hospital introduced the concept of playing Brahm’s Lullaby every time a baby was born. With over 4,200 births annually, the music reminds people of new life, inspiring young and old in a hospital setting where new life renews hope.

Windsor Regional Hospital also expanded upon the idea and developed an In Concert with Wellness program for patients, families, visitors and staff. Through donor generosity, a grand piano was acquired for the lobby to introduce and encourage community musicians, both professional and amateur to perform to a varied and enlightened audience. “We recognize that healing is not just physiological and that environment can contribute greatly to a patient’s well-being,” says David Musyj, President and CEO. “The music can be heard drifting up the elevators and does lift the spirits of all those in the hospital.”

In March of this year, a Music Therapy in Medicine Program was developed among the existing partnership that took a major step forward by offering special presentations to children in Paediatric Oncology. Again, local fundraising group, Transition to Betterness applied for a grant from Green Shield Canada who supported the idea of dedicated music therapy students working exclusively with children afflicted with cancer and receiving follow up treatment in the Paediatric Oncology Satellite Unit at Windsor Regional Hospital.

“Music therapy, along with medical play and art therapy offers different interactive techniques and participation that gives a child some control over their hospital surroundings because they can select a song of choice and participate with the musician,” says Allison Riggs, Paediatric Child Life specialist at Windsor Regional.

Demian Kogutek, a fourth year music student completing his Honours Bachelor of Music Therapy at the University of Windsor feels extremely rewarded, having developed an interest in working with those facing life threatening illnesses. Performing with a string quartet ensemble, he will encourage a young patient to conduct the quartet in selections such as Down By The Bay, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. “It empowers the child to listen through participation and takes their young mind off why they are in the hospital,” says Kogutek.

Another fourth year music therapy student, Joe Graham points out that when a child in the hospital sees you approaching with a musical instrument, they will never turn you away. It’s the power and magic of music that provides a nature distraction from what they may be experiencing while in the hospital such as fear, anxiety or pain. “I was interacting with a young oncology patient recently who took a liking to the song, Jailhouse Rock,” says Graham. “The child identified that the hospital at times seems like a jail because he was here all the time and couldn’t leave his room. We actually worked together to re-write the song in his own words and it truly relaxed and made him happy.”

Music has a varying reaction to patients of all ages. Music therapists indicate that performing to older patients does elevate their mood and decreases pain. You can see it in their eyes because a selection, lyric or song will bring back a certain memory, feeling or emotion that takes them away for a short time from the hospital environment.

The Music Therapy in Medicine Program combines the remarkable creative and healing powers of music to enhance quality of life. The magic of music lies in its unique capacity to reach out simultaneously on many different levels – physically, emotionally and spiritually, making it a powerful tool for change. Music Therapy can make a difference between isolation and interaction, pain and comfort, dependence and empowerment and between demoralization and dignity.