No matter what the country or culture, music has been recognized throughout history for helping to reduce anxiety and depression and bring joy.
That’s true at the beginning of the life and at the end when patients in hospice can find comfort, stress relief and other physical and/or emotional benefits from the strains of songs played at their bedsides.
Think of a how a lullaby gently coaxes a baby to sleep or how familiar song can spur recall of long-forgotten memories. Think of the smiles that music can bring.
That’s the power and beauty of music and Marcos Ahlman brings that beauty to patients at ALC Hospice on a daily basis.
His job as a music therapist is to interact one-on-one with patients, family, health professionals and caregivers to determine how music can address a patient’s particular needs.
Though he comes armed with a keyboard and guitar, Marcos doesn’t just play music, he first assesses patients to discover what their preferences are. Patients might, for instance, want to better manage pain or benefit from being more engaged. Marcos plays music to help them achieve their goals.
Not anyone can do what Marcos does. According to The American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is the clinical- and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.
Some of benefits of music therapy are:
- Promote Wellness
- Manage Stress
- Alleviate Pain
- Express Feelings
- Enhance Memory
- Improve Communication
- Promote Physical Rehabilitation
Marcos earned a degree in music therapy at Illinois State University. He went on to do a six-month clinical internship in a neurointensive care unit in a hospital in Puerto Rico at which he was later hired. After that job, he was hired to start a music therapy program at a rehab unit at a sister hospital.
During his clinical training, be worked with patients who’d experienced strokes, other brain traumas, spinal cord injuries or who had undergone knee or hip replacements or were doing other types of physical rehab.
In the case, for instance, of a patient recovering from a knee replacement, music can be used to encourage them to regain their mobility.
“I worked alongside a physical therapist, and we used rhythm a lot,” he says. “It really makes a difference when you have upbeat music and the nurses are cheering the patient and singing along. It really helped those patients to take those extra steps and to experience rehab as a positive rather than just painful.”
He also mastered Spanish.
“That is helpful now for our patients at ALC who are Spanish-speaking,” he says.
A key part of the process of working with any patient is doing an assessment.
“The assessments really matter because the conditions and needs of people in hospice vary greatly,” he says. “You may work with a patient with Alzheimer’s who is non-verbal or you may work with patients who are conscious and with whom you can have a conversation or you may work with someone having pain.”
Even a person who is non-verbal can be assessed and helped through music.
“If it looks like they are clenching their fists they may be in pain,” he says. “Or if their respiratory rate is very high, they may be feeling stress and we try to bring that down.”
Music engages people in ways that nothing else can.
“Music accesses all parts of your brain,” he says. “It is a great way to get people engaged and it helps them recall memories they may not have thought of in a long time. It’s positive, fun and meaningful.”
Marcos meets with about 35 patients at week, both in home and nursing home settings. His visits may be requested by patients themselves, caregivers or health professionals.
He also takes part in daily phone calls where other staff may suggest a patient that could benefit from music therapy.
Marcos finds that music therapy helps not only patients, but caregivers and family members who may be feeling emotionally drained or stressed.
“It can help them have fun, recall happy memories and just bring some positivity to what is often a challenging situation,” he says.
Marcos says one of his most memorable career moments was seeing the effect of music therapy on one of his patients who had stopped engaging with the world.
“We started doing music and this woman wakes up,” he says. “The family was just blown away that she was able to talk and sing a bit and say her goodbyes and ‘I love yous.’ There was something in the music that sparked her spirit and the family was beyond grateful. It was beautiful.”
Marcos, who started playing piano when he was four, says music therapy combines his two passions: music and helping people.
His own experience of a death in his family helped him realize he could use his musical talent to bring joy even at the most painful of times.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to music therapy is because my grandma was in hospice before she passed away,” he says. “I have a very musical and loving family and we were all around her. We were sharing stories and singing songs. She was surrounded by family and love. It was one of the saddest things I’d seen, but it was also one of the most beautiful.”
He’s excited to have a job that brings him the chance to help others, and to bring comfort. He makes a point to try to be at patients’ bedsides when they are passing, and hopes music eases their journey.
“There can be beauty in death and I try to bring that out,” he says.
ALC Hospice Care is committed to providing a holistic treatment that encompasses compassion and comfort through physical, emotional and spiritual support. ALC’s interdisciplinary team delivers care and treatment that is customized to the patient and family needs, preferences, values, beliefs and culture across a continuum of settings and living situations. ALC Hospice is part of Assistenza Healthcare Management which offers a full continuum of care including home, hospice, and primary care at home. For additional information visit www.ALCHospice.com.