2016-06-30

INDIANAPOLIS--Aaron Swann's spiked hair is one of the few things that makes him feel like a typical teen-ager these days.

Music therapy is another.

The 17-year-old Anderson resident spends his days trying to get used to the monotony of immobility after being paralyzed in an accident last year.

But his expression changed from melancholy to spirited when music therapist Jan Schreibman walked into his Methodist Hospital room with a keyboard.

After his head was propped up with a pillow, the instrument was placed carefully on white sheets covering his thighs. Although he has limited use of his arms, can't move his fingers from their clenched positions, and had undergone a lengthy surgery the day before, he smiled and said, "I'm sore today. But I'll give it a try."

As Aaron used the sides of his knuckles to play familiar tunes including "Amazing Grace" and "Heart and Soul," several nurses and others nearby smiled. Aaron basked in the attention he was commanding.

That is just one example of the impact the hospital's new music therapy program is having on infants to 18-year-olds who are patients in its Child Life Department.

Music therapy is the use of music as medical treatment. Music is used to restore, maintain, or improve emotional or physical abilities. Methodist is the first hospital in Indiana to offer the therapy as part of ongoing treatment for youngsters with serious injuries or illnesses.

In September, the department will celebrate the program's first anniversary, and its success.

"It's exceeded my expectations," said psychologist James L. Jones, who manages the department. The therapy helps to make the children's hospital stays less stressful and more comfortable.

"We've seen children who have been in pain not express as much difficulty with pain," Jones said. "We have seen children in the rehab process feel good about their accomplishments."

Music therapy complements other therapies and treatment, said Schreibman, who has worked one-on-one with many of the children since the program started. Right now, she squeezes hours of treatment into a part-time schedule, but Jones is hoping that more grants and funding will enable the hospital to have a full-time therapist. Makes a difference.

To gauge the program's success in helping patients feel better, they were surveyed, using a pain-management scale. In the survey, 90 percent of patients said music therapy reduced their pain to some extent.

Aaron agrees that the program helps him.

Though his body is stilled by paralysis, thoughts race through his mind: concern for his mother, recently diagnosed with cancer; worries about paying his lifelong medical expenses; hopes that a cure will be found for paralysis.

Until the accident, he was an active teen-ager who enjoyed bowling, shooting pool, and using computers. And he was looking forward to graduating from Highland High School in Anderson next spring.

"I was 11 days away from getting my driver's license," Aaron said wistfully.

Saying that he misses being able to go out on his own and do things himself, Aaron added that it means a lot for him to be able to play music. He's always liked music, he said, and it is one of the few things he can do now. It gives him a sense of independence and achievement.

"Once they come in, my day is usually better. Whatever problems I have, I usually don't think about them for a while," he said.

There are others with similar stories. Some of them are younger, like five-year-old Nicholas Brannon of Rockville, who was struck by a tree that his father was chopping down last March. After two weeks in a coma, Nicholas woke up.

"He didn't recognize me. That broke my heart," said his mother, Donna Gilman. He was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and must re-learn almost everything he had been taught since birth, she said.

Nicholas spent a month in the critical care unit before Schreibman started providing him with music therapy in April.

Gilman says she believes that Nicholas is much further along in his recovery than he would be without the musical intervention.

Schreibman said the youngster has come a long way. "He initially had a hard time with eye contact," she said. "He was following sounds and repeating words instead of forming thoughts himself. He couldn't grasp anything, eat or walk," she said. Now he is grasping objects, and forming some of his own words and thoughts. He is remembering more.

And he responds to the music.

Although she knows that Nicholas may have learning disabilities for the rest of his life, Gilman says her son has come a long way.

Music therapy also can help older patients with neurological problems caused by diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Music therapist Sarah Simmons works with older patients at Lockefield Village Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, which is affiliated with Wishard Health Services.

She works with about 50 people, age 70 to 90, most of whom have Alzheimer's disease. Because of patients' memory impairments, each time she's with them, it is as if they are meeting for the first time.

But when they are singing, their faces glow. They feel like they've expressed themselves and accomplished something.



The majority of her treatment involves keeping patients as independent and social as possible.

"Some patients can't make complete sentences," or their speech is garbled, Simmons said. But the music opens windows.

"When we sing to them, the artistic and scientific meet. It's remarkable. They can sing from their memory, verses and verses of songs. But after that, I will ask what they had for breakfast, and they can't make that complete sentence.

"But when they are singing, their faces glow. They feel like they've expressed themselves and accomplished something."

For many whose conditions cause them to be confused or agitated, playing a drum serves as a release, Simmons added.

Despite the fact that there are few studies yet that are accepted as proof for why and how music works the way it does, music therapy is gradually becoming an accepted health profession.

"Many health professionals are seeing it now as a cost-effective way of providing treatment that enhances other therapy," said Al Bumanis, communication director of the American Music Association, Inc.

"Music was used in hospitals by doctors when the soldiers came back from World War II as a diversionary treatment tool," said Bumanis.

The profession has grown steadily since then, with journals, peer-reviewed research and an increasing number of music therapists, he said.

"We may not know how it works yet, but we have the technology now to study the brain--the CAT scans and other brain mapping devices. It's still a mystery, but it may not be for long."

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