The Front Porch is deeply honored to launch a partnership with Hospice of the Piedmont. Since the beginning of this year, we’ve been sending musicians to play for Hospice patients, their family members, and caregivers at The Linden House Assisted Living and The Blake. Our goal is that music will provide warmth, peace, and connection during end of life care.
Music is powerful, especially in the way it impacts our brain. We know that music can have a transformative impact on our mood, emotions, and memory. It becomes even more powerful if brain function is declining. Music can awaken parts of the brain and the rich trove of memories that are associated with familiar songs or beloved pieces. It will anchor and ground someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. And it can provide comfort and peace to those nearing the end of their lives.
We hope to unlock this power for our friends at Hospice of the Piedmont.
Listen to Clara George, the Front Porch teaching artist heading up our Hospice of the Piedmont programming, speak on the importance of musical connection in end of life care:
Music and Memory
“The past which is not recoverable in any other way is embedded, as if in amber, in the music, and people can regain a sense of identity. . . “
– Dr. Oliver Sacks, M.D.
Research shows that music, memory, language, and emotion are all deeply linked in our brains. Studies from the music and neuro-imaging lab at Harvard show that singing is helpful for patients recovering from a brain injury or stroke that caused damage to the left-brain region responsible for speech. Since singing takes place on the right side of the brain, people can learn to speak through song before gradually moving back into speaking normally.
Dr. Sacks, author of Musicophilia, notes that even in severe cases of dementia, when communication is nonexistent and lived-memories have been lost, one always has an emotional reaction to music. Since emotion and music are linked neurologically, and since emotion boosts memory processes, music plays a powerful role in the formation of memories. Playing, singing, or listening to music, therefore, can awaken memories for those suffering from memory loss. Songs from childhood or a specific moment in the past can conjure up a piece of one’s identity that was previously hidden.
It makes sense, then, that evidence from brain imaging shows that personally meaningful music creates excellent alternative routes for communication with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease and who struggle to communicate. Research also shows that the positive effects of awakening musical memories can last for hours, days, or longer, and can be equally strong for patients who do not have a history of playing music themselves.
Similarly, a neuroimaging study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia determined that there were significant whole-brain differences for people suffering from early-onset and mild Alzheimer’s cases if they participated in a three-week, home-based music intervention program. This led to better emotional, memory, and health outcomes and improved quality of life.
Music doesn’t just slow memory loss, but it leads to holistically improved outcomes for patients in senior care facilities. A three-year study of residents in California nursing homes found the use of antipsychotic drugs and anti-anxiety medications significantly declined each quarter for residents with dementia in the music program. The odds of depressive symptoms decreased by 16% and the odds of reported pain decreased 17% each quarter.
There is even data to suggest that personal music intervention improves daily functions of life, like swallowing reflexes in individuals with advanced dementia, making eating easier and potentially diminishing reliance on feeding tubes and food intervention. This mitigates dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss, and leads to overall higher quality of life.
Music can unlock memories, forge new pathways in the brain, instill patients with confidence, joy, and peace, and even decrease the use of antipsychotic medication and distressed behaviors. It builds communication skills and a sense of identity, preserves or restores social capital, and strengthens social networks in communities with older individuals. All of these benefits are growing in our partnership with Hospice of the Piedmont.
Just as important, Clara is helping Hospice patients find peace and connection to family and past self as they transition through the end of their lives. This is what it truly means to fulfill The Front Porch’s mission to connect everyone through music. At the end of life, music is comforting, strengthening, and empowering — just as it is for our youngest children.
Stories From Hospice of the Piedmont
Through Clara’s incredible work and dedication, The Front Porch is honored to empower, connect, and provide peace to those at the end of their lives. Below are a couple of stories from Clara’s time playing music for Hospice patients – we are profoundly honored to share moments like these:
“Patient has two piano degrees and taught piano for 60 years. We were able to get her out to the piano. I asked her if I could play scales to warm up and she was delighted. She watched the scales carefully; probably looking for errors or simply finding a familiarity with the scales after teaching them for decades. Once each piece [I played] started, she listened with eyes closed. At end of each piece, said “What’s next?” She wore her teacher hat and asked me what I plan to do with my music, asked why I started playing, and complimented my “beautiful technique.” I asked if I could come back next week. She said yes, but she wants me to make a recital program, which I will do.”
“While this patient usually likes singing for 25 minutes, he had lots of energy today and we sang for 40 minutes. “You Are My Sunshine” is a good opener. During “Country Roads,” patient started thumbing for a piece of paper. The paper contained info about all family members who had fought in American and World Wars. He read the whole sheet and said “I’m working on it.” Upon the realization that he can still read very well, I sat next to him with the lyric sheets to “Country Roads, Lean On Me, and This Land Is Your Land.” Having the lyrics was very grounding for him so I will bring a lyric binder for him that he can keep in his room… He had a lot to say today. Talked about the flute, where he purchased his flute, and how special and beautiful the instrument was. Expressed that he’s trying to relearn the flute but often doesn’t have enough time to practice.”
“Patient communicates thumbs up for “yes” and thumbs down for “no.” Patient spoke to me a few times after the songs. After a few songs, she was able to say “yes” when I asked her if she liked a song. After a few songs, she said “beautiful.” This was the first time I have heard her speak. Patient likes Beatles, folk, country. She attended church; “This Little Light of Mine” is good, but other spirituals and hymns have made her sad. I told her I’d bring some more country songs as that seems to be her preferred genre. I sang the chorus to Dolly Parton “I Will Always Love You,” to see if the patient knew the song and would like me to sing it next week. Her “thumbs-up” was so enthusiastic that I looked up the lyrics on my phone and sang that song. I will bring the chart next week. I could tell by her expression that this particular Dolly Parton song holds emotional significance to her.”
Music is powerful, intimate, life-changing, and important. We are incredibly grateful to Clara George for her dedication, passion, talent, and determination in these efforts. We are also very grateful to Hospice of the Piedmont for the work that they do for our community, and for enabling us to foster these connections.
“I cannot express to you how inspired and touched I was this morning listening to Clara interact in such a moving way with three of our dear patients. She is so very gifted and immediately builds such a rapport with her audience. I truly mean it when I say I believe there was divine intervention in this collaboration. Today was a beautiful start. We are so very pleased. Thank you to Clara and to The Front Porch for the work you do in our community and for saying yes to this opportunity. I wish you all could have seen the smiles and the tapping along to the music and felt the positive energy in that moment. It was a blessing.”
–Lois Pearson, Director of Business Development, Hospice of the Piedmont
If you would like to learn more about the connection between music and memory, there is a treasure trove of resources found HERE: https://musicandmemory.org/resources/ Check them out!
Interested in learning an instrument? The Front Porch offers individual and group music classes for all ages and skill levels! Sign up for a class with one of our amazing teachers today. It’s never too late to start!
Love what The Front Porch does? Learn more about our Roots and Wings, Hospice, and our other outreach programs here, and donate to support music education in Charlottesville.
Just looking to listen to some music? Check out our upcoming concerts and events!