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  • Mitch Ware

Episode 10: What Does Music Have To Do With It ???

In this episode, Mitch shares the importance of music in patient care. He tells several stories that demonstrate his points, and will touch your heart!

"Music is the international language. It transcends boundaries of cultures and religions. It transcends politics, emotional, physical pain. It can transport us to another place in time, and it moves us to a better state of being."


Hello and welcome to another episode of Living with Hospice. I'm your host, Mitch Ware along with the gang we've got Chloe, we've got Charlie, Boss Cat and Cosmo Kramer's barking in the background so you might hear him from time to time about me. I'm a long term hospice volunteer as well as an experienced client of several hospices. I'm not a doctor, that a nurse, not a social worker, not therapist. But I have years and years and years of firsthand experience with several hospice organizations, and I'm a certified and vetted volunteer. Today we're going to take a look at, So it's music got to do with it. I'm going to share some stories from my own experience, as I am a bedside musician, and we're gonna take a look at what all the experts tell us about music and how it works on our brains and impacts our behavior. You know, music is the international language. It transcends boundaries of cultures and religions. It transcends politics, emotional, physical pain. It can transport us to another place in time, and it moves us to a better state of being. It's a very powerful force in our lives, and the even. You know, even if we don't realize it's working on us, it's working on us. Not everyone loves music. Some people can take it or leave it. Some of us are borderline obsessed by it, like me. There's a song in my head all the time. Occasionally there's more than one. But anyway, music still works on our minds, and it all works at the unconscious level. No matter where you live, no matter what you do, music is all around you. Why is that? What does that have to do with me and this situation? I find myself in this hospice journey. Well, you know, have you ever walked into a bakery and you get a real quick whiff of some fresh bread? You know, just right out of the oven, and all of a sudden you flash back on a time. Ah, long time ago. Maybe it's in Grandma's kitchen. Maybe it's in your mom's kitchen or the nice older lady that lived next door when you were growing up. Or have you ever taken a walk down by the beach and the smell of the lake in the wild flowers next to the boat landing there, the beach, and all of a sudden you flash back to when you were in summer camp. Music is a memory trigger like that. Also to this day, when I hear certain songs like The Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody or most Anything from the Beatles, it takes me back to that outdoor skating rink when we were just real little kids in the small town that I grew up in, that we had this big log cabin warming house and they had a concession stand in there and they were selling little root beer barrel hard Candies for Penny, and you could get a cup of hot cocoa for a nickel, and they had a record player with a stack of 45 records on it. That's 45 rpm, not 45 records. But they would play these songs out over the P A system somehow, and we'd skate there to this music and they're all top 40 hits, and we'd be there to Our parents came down to get us, and when I hear some of those songs, I'm transported right back there. I'm a seven or eight year old kid skating around. They're having a great time with my buddies. Music is not only a powerful memory trigger, it's also a powerful mood creator. It's a motivator that can facilitate a change in moods, and it's all around us every single day. Let's take a look. A like grocery stores, doctor's offices, dentist offices, elevators, music can sue their nerves. It could help us relax as well as help us get excited. Have you been to a pro game like an M B A game or an NFL game? Or how about a hockey game? The music is loud. It's rockin. Well, that's to set a specific mood. Music can even get us up out of our chairs and out on the dance floor. You know, one of those songs comes out from high school that everybody dance to, and here you are later in life and that music comes on and your wife looks at you and says, Come on, let's go. Well, it happens. Athletes use music to get revved up before they take the field. You see them on TV and they've got their headphones on and they're listening to some music and they're not listening to classical music. They're not listening to mood music. They're listening to something that's gonna get him up, get him going. And music can bring us to a place of reverence. Also, it can help feed our spirits. It can open our hearts and our minds. There's an old saying you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. When I meet a patient for the first time in my capacity as a bedside musician, I always gas. What type of music do you like? You'd be surprised what some of the answers are that I get. One guy visited was pretty much all alone in his life. He didn't really have many friends anymore and certainly didn't have any visitors. He'd had a rough life to ask him what type of music that he liked. Into my surprise, he responded classical. I'm searching my brain for some classical pieces that I know and have in my iPad and he suddenly says, and operas I like operas that he began to rattle off a dozen operas that he loved to hear over and over again. His face lit up a CZ. He told me a brief summary of a few of the favorites. Well, needless to say, we found him another bad side musician, actually a very fine harpist. And she could play most of the music that he liked to hear from classical pieces and and operas. You know what? I'm with somebody. I also watch body language and I make a mental note and stick with those songs, which caused the lights to go on and face to smile and their eyes to brighten up. I also encourage requests. If I don't know a song, I'll buy the chart. No learning music is that important. Music breaks through the fog of dementia. When nothing else can I see it over and over and over again. I have patients that I've walked in to see that we're no longer really even responding to their caregivers. They would just sit in the wheelchair or lay in the bed quietly and look out into space. I kind of like in their own world. As soon as I begin to play a song from their era, like their high school time. Or maybe they're early married life. The lights start to come on and they begin to remember, and some even smile and begin to sing along. And for 45 minutes or so. They're not in the fog anymore. They're in a place of joy and comfort. I've even been with patients that suffered from Alzheimer's, and we're really in pretty bad shape. They didn't know anyone they couldn't feed themselves. They really couldn't do anything but just sit and look and Justus. Soon as I began to play something that struck a chord in their mind and in their heart, they were back. Their eyes would brighten up in their face. Might even make an expression. One of the ways music effects mood is by stimulating the formation of certain brain chemicals. Listening to music increases the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the brain's motivation molecule, and it's an integral part of the pleasure reward system. It makes us feel better. Happy, upbeat music that we like makes us happy and upbeat ends. We hear it in the grocery stores we hear in the shopping malls. We hear it in the doctor's office we hear in the elevators. Meditative music makes us more well relaxed, and it calmed us down, and we hear that in in places where we really need to just sort of relax in some factories pipe in upbeat dance music, and studies show that people tend to move faster, tend to work faster and are basically happier. With that kind of music being played, I have personally witnessed people smiling, singing along with the piped in songs in their workplace, even dancing as they try to recreate some really cool memory from back in the day. And, of course, music is a very big part of our church worship experience. Music allows us a way to worship God with our voices, and we can do it in concert with other people. It prepares our hearts to hear the message that the minister has force on that day. There are tons of studies about the impact of music on the human brain and and how it shapes our moods. And I'm not gonna bother you anymore with any of the clinical of medical stuff. Just let me share some firsthand experiences with you about the power of music as it relates to hospice and palliative care In general. A few years ago, I had a patient who was a sweet, lovely lady. A few years over a century year old, she was in the memory portion of the assisted living facility. She could still walk some, but preferred to get around in a wheelchair. I recall the first time we met, she said, that she didn't want me all to herself. She felt kind of silly having me in her room there and that we should probably go out into the day room and sing and play for everybody. So I obliged her and off we went, as usual there, half dozen or so people in there just staring into space or watching the birds in the large cage that they had their beautiful, beautiful birds of every color. And they also had a great big fish tank where the big saltwater fish tanks with the fish, with all the just beautiful colors and in shapes and things, and people would sit there and watch for hours and hours. As I walked in, nobody was talking, so I agreed it everyone in a large voice and asked if they would like some music. Now, one person even acknowledged I was there, so I set up and began to sing. Button up your overcoat. When the wind is free, take care of yourself. You belong to me and half for more of them came in on the next verse. Eat an apple every day Get to bed by three Take good care of yourself. You belong to me now. This is a song from the thirties Button up your overcoat And these folks were in their eighties. So it was something that kind of broke through the fog and they recognized it and they were drawn to it. We went on to sing Bicycle built for two and my mom's favorite Gonna take a sentimental journey And as time goes by and Tennessee Waltz and a whole bunch others it was during Let me call you sweetheart. I'm in love with you I saw a couple in wheelchairs They were both in wheelchairs holding hands and they began to kind of move the front of their wheelchairs back and forth in time with the music The music broke through that fog And when I left there there was a smile and every single face You can imagine The smile on my face And my heart was just full of joy. My own mom bless her heart lived to be 99 years young. Those last few years. She didn't really know who I was, and she couldn't tell you what she had for breakfast or lunch. But when I began to sing songs from the thirties and forties, she knew every single word. And she even saying in key, I visited another gentleman in his home who told me he liked big band music. His daughter, who was present whenever I visited, shared with me that he'd been a dancer all his life. Ah, ballroom dancer. Apparently during the Second World War, he had served in the Army in France and the French people in conjunction with I guess our USO had set up canteens all over liberated areas and those were open for the soldiers to go to it. No cost. When they got there, they could get some food, American food, a drink here, life, music. And of course, there was dancing. There were women there that had what they called dance cards. Each woman had a card with 10 or 12 lines on it. And as the soldiers would request the dance, she would put his name on the next line. You've heard the term My dance card is full. Well, that's where that comes from when she filled out her card. It was full and the music started. One night, one of the women came over to ah ah, young soldier and ask him why he wasn't dancing. He was sitting there tapping his toe and enjoying the music. Looked like he should want to dance. Looks like he good dance. Why isn't he dancing? She thought Well, he told her he didn't know how he was just a farm boy and ah, maybe do a little square to Hanson or clogging. But he certainly didn't know howto waltz and all that stuff. He called it fancy dancing. She said, Well, I'll teach you. He politely turned her down, said, Thank you, ma'am, but I don't think I could do that. Well, not to be told. No, she grabbed his hand and off to the dance floor. They went. Turns out this guy was a natural. He was graceful yet powerful, and in a few hours she'd made him a dancing sensation. I mean, he could do the waltz, needed a few other simpler dances to, and he did them all with grace and confidence. This soldier discovered that he really liked ballroom dancing that fancy dancing and was pretty darn good at it. When he returned home, he moved back to the family farm that he grew up on and began to run it for his family. He also married his high school sweetheart, but she, too, liked the dance, and she was amazed that he was such a good dancer because during high school dances he didn't want to dance. He maybe go out and just stand there and shuffles feet a little bit. But now this man was kicking up his heels. They spent all their free time dancing it special events at exhibitions and shows around the the whole farm community area in which they lived. Sadly, she passed away four years into their new life. Together, he was just devastated. Well, dancing is the last thing that was on his mind. A few years later, he was asked to come judge, a dance in the state capital. It was there that he re equated himself with an old friend who was also without her dancing partner. So they teamed up and they danced all the major events that season together. By now I'm sure you've guessed that this soldier was my patient, and I recall about three months into our weekly visits, he'd asked his daughter to invite a female friend to come over. While I was there, they were both in a wheelchair and couldn't get around much. I didn't think much of this because, well, he would typically have people over to hear me play and sing, and we'd have a big old what we used to call hootenanny just a big sing along and we'd sing all these old songs from the late thirties and forties and fifties. But this time it was different. I recall this woman was she was beautiful and she's about same age. He was early nineties, and as I began to play, she grabbed his hand and they both smiled ear to ear. It was what I played Doris Day's Tennessee Waltz that she stood up, moved around in front of him and gently moved his arms and began to chair. Dance with him a waltz. You see, this woman was his old dance partner. They were in lock step. I mean, you could see in their minds that they were returning to the ballroom floor where they would just gracefully glide across the room as if floating on air. She moved him gently around that tiny living room, and their faces were just beaming. And I thought to myself, What a wonderful moment. A few days later, he passed away. But what a moment for them to have one more dance. What an honor for me to be part of that amazing experience. Friends Music is powerful and in modern medicine they're discovering that it's being included in palliative care all around the world, and it certainly is a part of hospice care and good news. Most every hospice has music volunteers, those air people that volunteer their time and will come to you wherever you are and play a piano or a harp or a guitar or sing. I even know a lady that plays violin, and she's extremely accomplished. And when she plays for someone, it's like an angel is singing. It's the most beautiful thing you've ever heard. It's a blessing to see people who are otherwise in the fog of uncertainty or bewilderment or worry all of a sudden brighten up and smile as we go down memory lane with songs from their high schooler, early adult lives, songs that seemed to breathe life and joy right back into them. If you want to enrich in your loved one's life, ask for a music volunteer to call on you again. Most every hospice organization has a group of music volunteers. They'll come singing and you'll find the the singing and laughing together is food for your soul. It helps us forget about being sick, being caregivers about what time it is what day it is. And we just We just have fun. It renews our spirits, and it helps energizes. So check it out. Music from your hospice. You'll be glad you did. I really appreciate your taking time to listen to this episode of living with Hospice. I hope that you could include some music in your care giving experience. And if you have any questions about this episode or any episode, or maybe you have a comment or two you'd like to make. Or maybe you have a terrific story that you'd like to share with us and others. Please drop us a note at until next time for the whole gang. Chloe, Charlie, the boss cat and Cosmo, wherever he is. This is Mitch Ware have a blessed day.

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