Music, the universal language, soothes Hospice patients


DARKE COUNTY — While November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, October was Music Therapy Month in Ohio. And, State of the Heart Hospice celebrated that as well.

In fact, music therapists all over the state celebrated to spread awareness about the field of music therapy.

The local State of the Heart Hospice employs two board-certified music therapists, Amy Pearson and Ashlee Carder. They also work out of the other two offices in Coldwater and in Portland, Indiana, as well as in Greenville.

The two music therapists said they primarily play the guitar but also play keyboard, piano, drums and woodwind instruments.

Music therapists work with the interdisciplinary hospice team of nurses, doctors, social workers and other disciplines to provide extra support for pain and symptom management.

Music therapy is an establish health care profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals of all ages. Music therapy in hospice uses individualized music interventions to address the needs of those face life-limiting illnesses.

“Not everybody would benefit by this,” said Pearson. “We go in with a goal for intervention and pain management. There are a lot of degrees of pain.”

“Entertaining is not our goal,” said Carder, who has been a part-time music therapist and part-time grief support for Hospice for the past year and a half. “We utilize music as an intervention.”

Music they play for patients and their families run the gamut, from the 1900s to the current tunes.

“Music is so broad, so we can’t know every song,” Pearson said. “We play classical, country, jazz and spirituals.”

Both women have been known to tame the anxiety in some patients when they are playing.

“Research shows that these people respond to our music,” said Pearson, who has been with hospice full-time for nine years.

“We have seen music be effective with pain control,” said Carder.

“One time, I went where a man was curled up in a fetal position because of pain in his stomach,” Pearson recalled. “His medicine was not cutting the pain, so I offered him music for relaxation on the guitar. In 15 minutes, his legs came down flat on the bed.”

Each woman has approximately 30 patients, with more than half of their patients receiving music therapy.

“If a patient is dying, we go more frequently,” Pearson said. “Some patients dance to the music or dance in a chair or with a walker, depending on their connection with the music.”

She also recalled an Alzheimer’s patient who didn’t communicate well.

“He had a special song he wanted me to play but I didn’t know it, so I went on U-tube, put it at his ear and he and his wife danced. It was very touching,” said Pearson, married and the mother of four children. “Sometimes, they can’t tell us their preferences. We get clues by finding out their age or looking around the room to see what would interest them.”

She went on, “Every reaction is so different. Some would smile or say ‘my grandmother loved that song’ or ‘my mom always sang that song. We try to find a connection with the song to the people. Music is a universal language.”

It was also pointed out that if someone is agitated, a slower tempo brings that mood down.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t matter the title but the rhythm and beat,” Pearson said.”Sometimes, their requests can be real obscure, like a steel drum. I will bring in a recorded version and tap into the beat to the music.”

“It’s about the elements,” added Carder, who is engaged and living in Minster. “Some hate the guitar and love the piano. We have to modify that.”

Both women report that some sing along with them, while some just want to listen.

There is no set time to spend time with a patient at each visit.

“We play until we feel like their goals are being met,” Carder said. “I spent two hours with patient once, using music to calm him down. Finally he sat down in a chair.”

“And, sometimes our goal is to let them sleep,” said Pearson, who lives in Fort Recovery.

Both are liking what they do.

“I enjoy it,” said Pearson. “It’s a very rewarding career because you get to love what you do. There have been times when patients are not responding, but when I get there, they’re having a good day.”

“If I can help one person with music, it’s good for me,” Carder said. “This field is so unique because we use music to accomplish our goals.”

Music therapists provide personalized therapeutic sessions for individual hospice patients or whole family groups. They are members of the hospice team. They work with grief specialists to offer support to patient caregivers and to others who are grieving in the communities they serve.

It was pointed out that music therapy meets patient objectives through relaxation techniques; pain management techniques; legacy building: promoting life review and creating CDs; and planning music for memorial services.

Music therapy focuses on pain control, expression of feelings, spiritual well-being, managing anxiety, meaning of life through life review and family support.

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.

Music therapists are required to complete 1,200 hours of clinical training including completing a degree program, a supervised internship and passing a board certification examination to earn the MT-BC credential.

It was noted that Ohio boasts the fifth highest number of board-certified music therapists in the United States. Music therapists in Ohio work with clients of all ages in a variety of settings including schools, therapy centers, hospitals, nursing homes, early intervention facilities, mental health facilities, group homes, hospice care, rehabilitation, private practice and in client’s homes.

“We go to people’s homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities…wherever our patients are, we go to them,” said Carder. “We travel in 12 counties in our area.”

The two women have been known to play music together, depending on if it is a large family or not.

“We work with anyone on the team,” Pearson assured. “We will be doing a memorial service on Sunday in Portland and on Nov. 22 at the Remembrance Gathering in North Star, which is open to the public. It’s a time to remember loved ones. There is candlelight, music and spiritual readings.”

Ohio music therapists are currently seeking the creation of a music therapy license at the state level through House Bill 184. The creation of a music therapy license through state recognition of the music therapy profession will help ensure that consumers in the state have access to music therapy services provided by a qualified practitioner. It will serve to both protect the public and increase their ability to choose access healthcare services that best meet their needs.

By Linda Moody

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Linda Moody may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to

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