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How Music Therapy Offered Peace and Healing to Shirley

Mar 1 2022

World Music Therapy Day is a day for people to celebrate the healing power of music.

Music therapy involves trained professionals, called music therapists, supporting the health and well-being of patients by using songs to meet emotional, communicative, physical, social and spiritual needs. At Bon Secours, we are proud to have a music therapy program available to our patients in our Richmond market.

Last year, a daughter, Tess Hurley, requested music therapy for her mother, Shirley, one of our Bon Secours Richmond Hospice and Palliative Care, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. At the time, Shirley was living in a residence that was under strict COVID-19 guidelines. She was extremely distressed as no family members or visitors were allowed in. Our hospice and palliative care team was happy to grant this request and Robin Rio (pictured above, left), a board-certified music therapist, scheduled a virtual music therapy session with Shirley.

“One day, during the height of the pandemic, I entered the room to witness Shirley extremely agitated and crying,” Tricia Shiflett, RN, case manager (pictured above, right), shares. “Our team was in the process of ordering pain medication. However, while we were waiting, Robin’s therapy session began. She started playing music to Shirley through an iPad. Robin was playing her guitar, singing soothing songs and was moving without pause from one song to the next. In intervals, she encouraged Shirley to take deep breaths and reassured her of the presence of God, of our staff and the love of her daughter.”

Tricia continues, “I was particularly moved to witness Robin calming Shirley into complete silence, where she was breathing peacefully for 10 seconds. No one moved or spoke in that peace; Shirley sat with her eyes closed. It was a true transformation from her state at the beginning of the visit. It reminded all of us of the power of compassion and music.”

Music therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for patients with various disorders, especially Alzheimer’s. In fact, studies and anecdotal evidence have found situations in which people with memory issues, brain injuries, dementia or Alzheimer’s might be struggling to find the words but have no trouble singing or playing an entire song from their younger days. Music therapy helps with memory and stimulates the mind because of predictability, familiarity and the feeling of security.

“I really appreciate Robin and Tricia taking care of my mother,” Tess says. “In her despair, Robin was a calming light for her. Although I do miss her, I take comfort in knowing that she is at peace now. Robin is a true blessing to many with her gift of music. We are so grateful.”

Learn more about the palliative care and hospice services we offer at Bon Secours.

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