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Sharp Health News

Music and memory

Jan. 23, 2018

Music and memory

Music therapy has been proven to help relieve pain and improve quality of life. That is especially true for the residents of the long-term care facility at Sharp Coronado Hospital. Patients who are normally nonresponsive light up with a smile as headphones are placed over their ears and music plays.

"Some of these patients — who cannot communicate with us in any other way — display an experience of joy, of happiness," says Christopher Walker, chief nursing officer and chief operating officer at Sharp Coronado. "So far, we are quite pleased with the results of the Music & Memory project."

Sharp Coronado Hospital has partnered with the nonprofit Music & Memory, Inc., researchers at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, and the California Association of Health Facilities (CAHF) to test the effectiveness of music on the reduction of pain and other stresses on patients in the long-term care setting.

Music and memory
The Music & Memory Program at Sharp Coronado Hospital’s long-term care facility helps patients who are normally nonresponsive light up with smiles of joy.

"The aim here is to provide patients with music that soothes them, music that reminds them of good times, music that lifts them out of their beds and transports them to a happier place," says Walker. "For an Alzheimer's patient, studies show that memories of music remain powerful and moving; for a patient in a vegetative state, a song might be the only connection they have to the life they've otherwise lost."

Coordinators of the project will measure its success by tracking reliance of patients on pain medications and by reduction of agitated states or incidents of self-injury. The hope is that music will calm and divert patients from the rigors of recovery and confinement. Patients receiving the music therapy range from those who are mobile and aware, to those who display little or no cognition.

"We talk with the patient, or with the patient's family and friends, and find out what music they like. Then we compile a playlist of their favorite songs. Songs they listened to as children, as teens, when they used to hit the dance floor," says Walker.

The songs are purchased from iTunes, or downloaded from CDs that are brought in from the patients' homes. Sharp Coronado staff have even conducted a CD drive. Fifteen iPods were provided by the CAHF Music & Memory Program for the initial project, and 30 more have been purchased through funds allocated by the Coronado Hospital Foundation. Walker's goal is to provide a player and individualized playlist for all residents admitted to Sharp Coronado Long-Term Care now and in the future.

Data from the initial program will take months to gather and analyze, but so far, it is a hit.

"When you see a patient smile, and tap a finger to a beat, then you know that they have been given a little quality of life where little is possible to attain. And it gives us, as caregivers, a greater connection with the patient, a better opportunity for us to center on their care and focus on them as individuals. It's a win for our patients, and a win for us."

For the news media: To talk with Christopher Walker about the Music & Memory Program for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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