Hospital's music therapy program becomes lifeline for patients

Finding your voice again after a stroke or a spinal cord injury can be a difficult journey, but a Calgary music therapy program has helped patients even during COVID restrictions.

Patients aren't able to see visitors regularly due to COVID-19 restrictions

Jennifer Buchanan, founder of JB Music therapy, sits with a patient on the palliative care unit at Foothills Medical Centre. The program has helped a variety of patients, especially during the pandemic. (Erin Thrall)

Finding your voice again after a stroke or a spinal cord injury can be a difficult journey, but a Calgary music therapy is helping patients even during COVID restrictions.

The program JB Music Therapy is available at the Foothills Medical Centre and South Health Campus. 

Jesse Dollimont, a music therapist with the company, helps provide services to a number of units in the neurorehabilitation stream.

She told the Calgary Eyeopener that music therapy sessions look different depending on the patients and their injury.

"Sometimes we create music together. We improvise, play instruments. We might sing together, we might listen to music together," she said.

For those who may have speech or communication problems, she says singing is a great way to build neural pathways.

"It's going to be the music that you prefer, the music that is connected to your memories, to your routines, to your rituals, to your traditions," she said.

COVID-19 impacts

At first, the program was almost cancelled due to the COVID-19 restrictions, but the public and health-care workers fought to bring it back.

"We were online and we had amazing support from the allied health staff, the nursing staff and the unit managers on site to help us still serve patients in the online format."

Jesse Dollimont, a music therapist with the company, says they help patients reduce their anxiety. (Sheena Zilinski)

The music therapist explains that they asked patients their wants and needs through the pandemic, and a lot of it has been an emotional support piece.

One of her patients is Natasha Scoria, who has been at the Foothills hospital for three months after surgery for a brain tumour. 

Because of the COVID restrictions, Scoria wasn't able to see any visitors, so listening to music has been her lifeline.

"The music made me feel good, made you comfortable. Sometimes you forget where you are and that you don't have your family close," she said.

Dollimont says they're back in the hospital but are geared up in masks, gloves and goggles, as well as maintaining distance from the patients.

"What we found truly is that at its essence, it really hasn't changed the work all that much … music therapy is so much about the relationship that we create with folks," she said.

"Music itself is a connector and it works even at a distance."

  • Listen to the full interview below:

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.