NOSTALGIC AMERICA MAGAZINE

WHAT DOES HOSPICE SOUND LIKE?

December 2011

Patients find comfort in many ways. VITAS Healthcare offers music therapy for many reasons

The 90-year-old woman has Alzheimer’s disease. She is withdrawn and rarely communicates. Yet when Tom Dalton enters her room, her face lights up. He takes out his guitar and plays a familiar tune. Together, they sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” She becomes animated, singing, smiling, moving in her wheelchair. She’s transported to a time when she was dancing with her husband on their wedding day.

Tom is a board certified music therapist and licensed mental health counselor for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Broward County. He works to improve the quality of life for the terminally ill patients served by VITAS in the South Florida area.

Research has shown that for those who are facing life-limiting illnesses, music therapy can decrease pain and symptoms that are difficult to control with medication, promote deeper breathing, help to manage a patient’s anxiety and agitation and provide an outlet for emotional expression and a means of coping. At VITAS, the music therapist works closely with the other members of the care team to meet each patient's physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual needs.

“Music opens up pathways in the brain to memory and emotion and can change withdrawal and isolation into joyful interaction,” says Tom. 

Tom spends his days at hospitals, nursing facilities and homes of hospice patients and their families.  He brings his guitar, music and various instruments but more importantly, he brings a sense of empathy, compassion and caring which communicates through his music.

In a family session with an 82-yr-old man with Parkinson’s disease, his daughter and granddaughter, certain songs from the 1940s trigger reminiscing and storytelling from the patient. Tom works with the family to create an original song together incorporating their stories into lyrics and music.  “Songwriting is such a powerful way to validate and celebrate a patient’s life.” He then makes a CD for the family as an audio keepsake. 

“I believe strongly in the power of music to bring a sense of joy, comfort and peace to hospice patients and their families and I’m committed to ensuring excellent, state-of-the-art music therapy services at VITAS,” says Tom.

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