Tyler Jorgensen: Easing End-of-Life Care With Nostalgia & Music

Many forms of recorded music have been shown to lower pain scores, decrease anxiety and depression, and promote loved ones’ well-being. However, we feel that vinyl records in particular — in contrast to more readily available electronic modalities of music — provide a more unique and multisensory experience.

Records provide tactile, visual and auditory stimulation, while often evoking nostalgia and drawing on positive shared memories. We specifically chose a wide-ranging library of records to represent music from across diverse cultural backgrounds, allowing for a customizable, patient- and family-centered experience. We have found that the record player and records are often a time machine for our patients, transforming them back to a happier time in their lives.

We are still studying the impact, but a recent survey of residents, nurses and advanced practice providers reveals uniformly positive experiences with the record player. Anecdotally, our patients and families (and our staff) have reported a significant boost in their well-being after using ATX-VINyL. A recent patient and his family stated that using ATX-VINyL was the first time they had felt fully human again after many weeks in the hospital.

What kind of change do you hope to see, in Austin and beyond?

As physicians, we need to deliver our care in a way that respects and honors the humanity and dignity of each patient we care for. This includes tailoring our therapeutic strategies toward patient-centered goals of care. But caring for our patients’ personhood can also include the incorporation of some “human” elements as we treat their illnesses and injuries — music, art, poetry, stories, laughter. Educational efforts highlighting research that supports the use of these therapies can help providers and institutions understand the value of non-pharmacologic interventions. 

Ideally, hospitals in Austin, across Texas, and around the world will grow to value complementary therapies and devote resources toward music and art therapy experts and toward artistic resources that can be shared with patients.

I find it very interesting that children’s hospitals seem to understand the need for these sorts of things intuitively — they are filled with art, music, and interactive play and therapies — but our adult hospitals often are not. Patients still need these things even after they turn 18-years-old.

What makes you positioned to approach this problem? Is there a personal experience, a critical collaboration or a unique approach in play?

I have dedicated significant time this year to studying existing research on music interventions for terminally and critically ill patients. I have also met with researchers from around the country and internationally to discuss and workshop our latest music intervention strategies.

I practiced emergency medicine for over a decade before pursuing training in palliative medicine and I had a front row seat to the distress, fear, pain and anxiety that acute medical illnesses and traumatic injuries can cause. Now in palliative medicine, I have truly enjoyed being able to focus more on the human experiencing the illness than the illness itself. I stress to our residents and medical students that one of our main jobs is to learn to connect with the human inside each patient. Then we will know how to best care for them.

This news feature is part of Dell Med’s Voices, a series of profiles that highlight the people of Dell Med as they work to improve health with a unique focus on our community.

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