Hackensack University Medical Center's Hospital Elder Life Program Adds Music Component to Ease Hospital Stay Experience

Medical student volunteers bring healing music to the bedside for senior patients

Hospital Elder Life Music Program

When Noel Thompson was sent to the Emergency Trauma Department at Hackensack University Medical Center, the 96-year-old was nervous. It was a violinist who helped him get through his hospital experience.

Through the Hackensack University Medical Center's Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), a volunteer played the violin at Mr. Thompson's bedside, via a personal Zoom performance, getting his mind off his infection and onto the soothing sounds of classical music.

Recognizing the toll unexpected hospital stays can have on patients, especially older patients like Noel, the center launched HELP as a comprehensive initiative to prevent delirium, maintain cognitive abilities and maximize function in older adult patients. Over the past 14 years, HELP has worked with more than 900 volunteers at Hackensack University Medical Center.

This care is delivered by a team of geriatricians, an elder life specialist, specially trained volunteers and most recently, musicians. Since summer 2021, three to four patients most weekdays benefit from the soothing music provided by Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine students and other volunteers via Zoom, FaceTime or Google Duo.

“We play all kinds of music for our patients,” says Andrew Huang, a third-year medical student who plays several instruments, including the guitar. At Hackensack University Medical Center, Andrew along with co-medical students, Gabrielle O'Dougherty, who plays the violin, and Vince Gerald Dagot, who plays the piano, engage patients by taking requests and having sing-alongs.

Multiple studies show music has a profound effect, from helping improve the recovery of motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, to reducing symptoms of depression in patients suffering from dementia and even helping patients experience less post-surgery pain and heal faster.

“Music feeds your soul,” said 72-year-old patient Ruth Spear, who spent a week at the hospital after being treated for blood clots. “I don’t watch television and so I would do crosswords and color to pass the time but it was tough. The music program was truly a highlight of my stay.”

“Billy Joel once said music in itself is healing and I couldn’t agree more,” says Nadine Benoit, MPA, Elder Life Specialist of HELP. “You can instantly see the change in a patient when that music starts to play, it’s almost magical to watch and we’re so grateful to these busy medical students who volunteer their time and their talent to our program.”

In addition to the recreational music, other HELP services include stimulation and cognitive orientation activities, meal assistance, companionship, exercise and mobilization, family support and education, hearing and vision aids, dehydration prevention and sleep enhancement strategies.

Learn more about innovations in geriatric care happening at Hackensack University Medical Center.

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