Music Has The Power To Heal - Mayo Centre for Innovation - Healthcare Design

Alive Inside: Music Therapy Impacts Health Outcomes

Post Written By Megan Zimmerman

I am a Music Therapy volunteer at a hospital here in Rochester, MN. Once a week I bring my guitar to the Pediatric Unit and play and sing with the patients and their families. I also have a small bucket with me that holds maracas, tambourines, and small drums so the kids can play along and engage in the music. I love playing guitar and singing in general, and it is very rewarding to go to the hospital and see some of the patients’ stress melt away as we become engrossed in the music.

Next year, I will begin graduate school for Physical Therapy. As a future therapist, I am very interested in learning about the multitude of therapy techniques that improve health outcomes for patients. After volunteering with the Pediatric patients, I see the relationship between music and health outcomes. I am interested in specializing in neurorehabilitation and working with geriatric patients. As I was reflecting on the benefits of music and health outcomes, I remembered watching a documentary called Alive Inside. This documentary incorporates music on iPods to combat the deleterious effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia on patients. Part of the documentary tells the story of Henry. When we meet Henry, he has been in a Nursing Home for almost ten years. Henry suffers from seizures, and his wife and family were unable to provide the kind of support he needed. His daughter describes how Henry loved music all throughout his life. She describes how walking down the street with her father and brothers became a treat when he burst out singing, Singing in the Rain and would swing them around light poles singing at the top of their lungs. Now, he sits hunched over in his wheelchair and is almost non-communicative with his care providers and daughter. In the documentary, they put Henry’s favorite songs on an iPod and have him start listening to the music. His face lights up, his eyes open wide, he starts to sway and dance in his chair and he is singing and humming along with the music.

When they take the music away, Henry remains more animated and he is able to interact with the doctors and he provides answers to questions that he would not have understood before. It is not clear whether the memories Henry shares are completely accurate, but at the very least, he is enjoying himself. He is able to tell them that his favorite singer was Cab Calloway when he was young, and when they asked him what his favorite Cab Calloway song is, he starts singing, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. This is not a song that Calloway ever sang, but Henry is more animated than he was before the music started. In this case, music had a powerful and positive effect on Henry. This documentary demonstrates the power of music to bring happiness to patients, but it could also bring sadness. Imagine that the doctors and staff played a song that the patient associates with a bad experience or a day filled with sorrow. Playing that song might cause confusion or sorrow in the patients and the doctors and staff have no way of knowing or predicting what songs will trigger that sadness. As a future physical therapist, I am very interested in incorporating music therapy into my practice. I am excited to use classical music or new music that is not associated with either positive or negative emotions for my patients to improve their therapy experience. This documentary showed me the power of music and how it can improve the quality of life for all patients.