Playing the harp at the hospital and hospice bedside

music jokeOne of my passions is to play the harp at the hospital and hospice bedside. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing a variety of experiences I’ve had. This will give you an idea of the power and potency of this work!

Before I walked in to this female patient’s room, I was told she was very agitated the day before. By the time I played for her, she was heavily medicated and very sedated.

While I played, she was very peaceful and sleepy. I had a sense that she was very sad and perhaps had some dementia. I played Amazing Grace and other familiar songs (which is helpful to demented patients because it brings them into the present moment and while they may not remember anything else, they may still hold music memory – melodies and/or words). The word that came to me as I was playing for her was “protection.” I had the feeling that she was very protected by many angels.

Sometimes, sleep is more difficult in the hospital environment, yet can be the most restorative/healing. That’s where the harp can work its magic … in fact, I always say I’ve done my best work if I put the patient to sleep!! I left her in a peaceful state and helped her drift off to sleep.

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Music for Alzheimer’s Patients

Two friends have recently been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment. It feels important to share some thoughts about music and dementia.

After playing the harp many times for residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, I have found familiar music to be most effective. This is music that they know – patriotic tunes, hymns, classical, oldies, big band sounds, love songs, Irish, etc.

Dr. Petr Janata, a neuroscientist of the University of California-Davis validates this observation. He says, “The medial prefrontal cortex (located just behind the eyes) is also one of the last brain regions to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s disease. This may help explain why many Alzheimer’s patients can remember and sing along to tunes from their youth when other memories are lost.”

In a recent study, Janata showed that this region seems to be a central hub linking music, memories and emotion. He used an imaging technique called fMRI to look at the brains of young adults while they listened to song clips from their childhoods. When they heard familiar songs, the medial prefrontal cortex lit up. Activation was strongest when the song evoked a specific memory or emotion.

It is exciting when intuition and science merge! If your family and/or friends are touched by dementia or Alzheimer’s, try familiar music to connect them to memories and/or emotions.

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