Bringing Back Memories – And Joy – Through Music Therapy

Image of VNA Music Therapist and patient Teddy & Lee Gordon.

Share This Post

Theodore “Teddy” Gordon aka “Pops” by his 15 grandchildren and wife, Lee, has been on hospice with the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) for two years, a number that surprises many who don’t realize that some people stay on hospice for a long time; it’s all about quality of life. And since Teddy, who has dementia, started hospice, his life has improved markedly, especially due to music therapy, part of his care. “What the VNA does goes beyond the music, of course, they’re here to care for him, but the music is just amazing; it brings back such memories for Teddy,” said Lee.  “We’d probably on our own never would have known about it.”

Lee is not alone. Most people have never heard of or don’t understand what music therapy is until they need it. Simply put, music therapy is the use of music to help address various ailments a person might have, everything from physical issues like lack of mobility, to mental issues, including cognitive decline, anxiety and depression. For example, if a patient has gait abnormalities, a music therapist could play a steady beat on a piano to help retrain the patient to walk, a music therapy technique called rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS).

In Teddy’s case, the primary goal of the music therapy is to increase his sensory stimulation. “Because Teddy has dementia, his sensory experience of the world is limited both by the condition itself and by the fact that he doesn’t get out much. This is a common goal for many of our hospice patients,” said VNA Music Therapy Manager, Lauren Schaust, MT, BC, who works with Teddy. “We use the music to provide a stimulation that is meant to activate his brain and his body; music is shown to light up the motor movement areas of the brain even when the person isn’t physically moving as well as provide something that is familiar to him. This increases his alertness and his engagement with his surroundings, meaning he speaks more and acknowledges his spouse and caregiver and anyone else present more often than when music is not present. This is not to say that I don’t also hope to lift his spirits, but sensory stimulation is the actual clinical goal I am addressing.”

Teddy is not the only one who enjoys the music therapy sessions, often Lee and their grandchildren will join in on the fun too.  “We’ll all sing together ‘You are my sunshine’ and all these old songs; I’m 96 and teddy’s 98, and we just so look forward to singing because we realize Pops remembers the most amazing songs that we all used to sing years ago when we were in our 20s and 30s,” said Lee. “If we had to sing them right now, we couldn’t but as soon as the music starts, and she plays the guitar or the piano, we remember. And sometimes Teddy harmonizes the way he always did when we would go to church.”

And it’s not just the music that is uplifting for Teddy, but it’s the connection he has made with his music therapist. “Lauren has a beautiful voice, and she simply also relates personally,” said Lee.

Teddy’s home health aide, Jessica, agreed. “He adores her,” she said. “If he’s having a bad day and he sings, it kind of helps everything flow better.”

“We all kind of come to life when Lauren comes,” added Lee. “It’s an experience that I look forward to, and Pops doesn’t quite remember until she walks in the door, but when she does walk through the door, he does recognize her. We all see the difference and are so thrilled.”

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from VNA

More To Explore

Diagram of human respiratory system lungs.
Health Awareness

Living with COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is the sixth leading cause of death in