Musically Speaking

Sometimes, with all the background noise in life, we forget how powerful the simple things can be and how they can positively affect us. Like music. Intuitively, we know it can make us feel really good. But often we’re rushing around, stressed, nursing a cold maybe, and we don’t think about the power of closing our eyes and listening to an uplifting symphony, a soulful guitar riff or an incredible voice.

For those suffering from chronic illness or recovering from serious trauma or surgery, music is more than a feel-good remedy. It is one of the world’s oldest medicines. When combined with modern health care advancements, music can be used to help treat a range of conditions—brain injuries, trauma, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, autism, stroke and even pain.

But beware. The healing properties of music can cause side effects such as a feeling of well-being, improved memory and decision-making skills, and sometimes less medication. Who wouldn’t want those side effects?

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In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May 2013, researchers analyzed the benefits of using music with critically ill patients. Investigators found that by the fifth day, patients who were given the option of listening to their preferred pieces of music, when they wanted, experienced a 36 percent decrease in anxiety levels, as well as a decrease in sedation intensity and frequency. The patients in the music group received two less doses per day of sedative medication compared with the control group. Less sedation translates to fewer complications. This is a significant finding.

Other studies have demonstrated how music therapy improves outcomes by helping to rebuild a patient’s ability to think, move and speak. Therapists have used music for memory training by teaching neurology patients to remember their street addresses. For executive-function training and to heal patients with frontal lobe damage, therapists used songwriting to rebuild decision-making, organizing and planning.

At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, we embrace music to get people—patients and employees alike—feeling better. For nearly 10 years, we’ve welcomed weekly visits from volunteer performers in the WXPN Musicians On Call program. We hear from our patients and clinicians about how much they love the live, in-room performances. The music takes them to a different place. Our university has its own a cappella group, a jig band, and even invites artists to perform on campus to benefit employees and our students, especially during stressful times like the holidays or exam week.

Like Bob Marley said: “One good thing about music—when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

“One good thing about music—when it hits you, you feel no pain,” Bob Marley sang. Photo credit:  Eddie Mallin, Wikimedia Commons

“One good thing about music—when it hits you, you feel no pain,” Bob Marley sang. Photo credit: Eddie Mallin, Wikimedia Commons

We are excited about bringing even more music to our patients at their bedsides through a partnership with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. The group has generously and exclusively provided Jefferson with professional, high-definition video recordings of their best performances. Through a high-tech, high-touch interactive patient care system called the GetWellNetwork, we are able to deliver chamber orchestra performances on demand to our patients via their TVs—at any time, on any day.

Being in the hospital can be stressful, and sometimes the very technology we’re using to help patients get better can also be the most overwhelming part of their experience. By using an interactive patient care system to deliver music, we’re adding a personal and relaxing touch that provides comfort and healing.

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