The Recorder & Times - “The Healing Power of Music”


Music is the compass that leads Kay Edmonds to the clearing.

The 86-year-old Brockville resident suffers from dementia and has been part of the Brockville and District Hospice Palliative Care program for two years, said her daughter and caregiver, Susanne Graham.

Her condition has robbed her of her memory and the formerly outgoing, sociable woman now mostly withdraws into herself.

But every second Friday, Edmonds, who lives with Graham at home, gets a one-hour visit from the program's music therapist, Courtney Radbourne, and the change it brings to Edmonds is like a miracle.

"When Courtney comes over, she is so responsive. Her eyes light up. She starts to sing," said Graham.

"She just becomes alive," added Graham. "The life she used to have comes back into her when Courtney is here."

Radbourne, 25, of Ottawa, has been working three days a week as the palliative care program's music therapist since last September, in a program started with $20,000 from the 1000 Islands and Grenville community futures development corporations.

The money is aimed to fund the program for eight months to a year, with the hope that it can become sustainable through fundraising.

Radbourne has dealt with more than 50 people since starting her work here, through hospital and home visits as well as the palliative care program's day hospice program.

Music therapy has been proven to have lasting effects on patients, said Radbourne.

That includes people with Alzheimer's disease or, as in Edmonds's case, other dementias.

People's affects just become brighter," said Radbourne.

"It's almost like finding a compass in the dark."

Radbourne, who has a bachelor's degree in music therapy from Acadia University, uses music in a variety of ways in her one-on-one encounters.

"It's really up to the patient and what they want."

That includes learning an instrument, relaxing with music, improvisation, analysing songs or even writing them, she said.

In fact, a recent fundraising concert for the music therapy program, at First Presbyterian Church, included an anonymous piece written by a patient.

"I think it really showcased the possibility of what the program's really doing," said Radbourne.

Such moments not only allow the patients to exercise their minds, they also provide them with an invaluable boost in self-esteem.

"I had one patient, they were amazed when their song was finished and couldn't believe that they had made this song."

Music therapy traces its origins to the First World War, when nurses would sing at the bedsides of wounded soldiers, said Radbourne.

The discipline has since grown and there has been a Canadian Association for Music Therapy since the 1970s, she added.

The association's website notes that music "has nonverbal, creative, structural, and emotional qualities," which "are used in the therapeutic relationship to facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development."

Linda DiLabio, the palliative care program's co-ordinator of consult nurses, said a volunteer music therapist worked with the program in a "small capacity" about a decade ago.

She had been to conferences where music therapy has been discussed and has been eager to get it started here.

"You kind of come out charged and think: 'Wow, if we had this ... there's so much potential.'"

DiLabio has no doubts about music therapy's clinical benefits.

"I would say yes without hesitation," she said.

Those benefits occur on physical and emotional levels.

"They (patients) don't always have to talk about 'what's wrong with me.'"

Sometimes, added DiLabio, the music just provides a form of immediate pain relief.

Radbourne usually carries around her guitar, which is easier to bring to the bedside.

Palliative care patients have a range of complex medical needs, so her work naturally varies with each patient.

"When people come in, they have so many different elements," said Radbourne.

"In a moment, it could be calming family. In a moment, it could be working through that grief."

The music, also, will vary.

"The repertoire is pretty wide," said Radbourne, who adds she will do her best to accommodate whatever musical request she gets, no matter how unfamiliar.

"They always appreciate it even if it's a little rusty."

Often, said Radbourne, the patients want to hear "good old country songs."

Like the hospital's palliative care nurses, Radbourne can also feel the loss when a patient passes on.

Overall, she added, working in the program is rewarding.

"It gives me a real sense of pride to be able to help people and to be with them in such an important moment," she said.

"I've just been taught so much about life and compassion."

Radbourne, who also works in Smiths Falls with autistic children, added her palliative care work has also taught her about "the true power that the human spirit has."

The March 4 fundraising concert at First Presbyterian Church, which featured regional musicians who donated their time and talents, raised $2,500, including a donation of $300, and the program has also received a bequest for $10,819, according to the Brockville and District Hospital Foundation.

Radbourne and DiLabio hope the program will find a way to sustain itself so Radbourne can continue making those visits with her guitar.

"Music therapy is another way to complement the work we do," said DiLabio.

"Courtney represents many things to our team," she added, noting Radbourne helped put together a song by palliative care staff about their experiences.

As a younger member of the team, Radbourne brings "a breath of fresh air," said DiLabio, and simply hearing her practice on her guitar in her office at the Garden Street site enlivens the place.

Graham, meanwhile, already appreciated the value of music therapy from her former work with special needs children at an Ottawa school board.

That board, she notes sadly, has since discontinued music therapy because of cutbacks.

The therapy brings out a person's ability to communicate through the combination of music's inherent magic and the therapist's one-on-one interaction with the patient, said Graham.

She is impressed with Radbourne's work with her mother.

"If I were to just put music in the room, it wouldn't do this," said Graham.

Edmonds was one of Radbourne's first patients and her choice of music tends to be "classic songs," such as "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," said Graham, who fervently hopes the music therapy program can continue.

"Courtney is really special at doing this," she said.

"She really has a gift."