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Music therapy program at Calgary’s Foothills hospital expanded

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Music therapy program at Foothills Hospital expanded
WATCH: Music is now being used as medicine at the Foothills Medical Centre intensive care unit in Calgary. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, it's part of an expanded music therapy program that is helping everyone from palliative care patients to stroke victims – Mar 1, 2018

A new partnership between the National Music Centre, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and JB Music Therapy will help expand the neurorehabilitation music therapy program at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre.

The music therapy program started a year and a half ago and will continue for the next two years with the help of support from the National Music Centre and Calgary Health Trust. It’s also being expanded to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“It’s one of the only tools that accesses our emotions but it also accesses our muscles and our muscle memory and our physicality,” music therapist Sam Harber said.

READ MORE: Music for your health: The power of musical therapy

For Laura Rutherford, playing video games and writing emails is a huge achievement. It’s a vast improvement from the entire year she spent at the Foothills Medical Centre unable to move at all.

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“I was paralyzed from my forehead down,” Rutherford said.

She is now recovering from a rare disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. She remains paralyzed but her nerves are regenerating, thanks in part to a combination of physical and music therapy.

“I put Adele on and I use my yoga breathing that they offer here and I don’t feel the pain as much.”

Music therapists tailor their playlists to each client, often playing songs from their youth, helping patients deal with anxiety, grief or depression.

“I think it’s improved my mood. I can stay in a good mood longer and not dwell on the negative that I am facing,” Rutherford said.

Doctors say music has many different rehabilitation applications from gait retraining in Parkinson’s disease and stroke patients, to helping people speak again.

“It does help retrain the brain so you can start using that as a cue to assist people while they’re doing their rehabilitation,” Dr. Stephanie Plamondon said.

“And then as time goes on, you can take that stimulus away and they will be able to keep that same good movement pattern.”

READ MORE: N.B. woman’s hand-crafted ‘cuddle dolls’ comfort seniors with dementia

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Plamondon said they are using a music-based technique for Parkinson’s, called rhythmic auditory stimulation.

“It’s basically using rhythm from music, the regular beat, to assist the patient in having a regular and consistent step,” she said. “So it can help Parkinson’s patients in particular with having regular and smoother movement.”

The music therapy program is also benefiting brain injury and palliative care patients at the Foothills Medical Centre.

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