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DiversityNursing Blog

Did An Irregular Heartbeat Help Make Beethoven a Music Legend?

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Jan 14, 2015 @ 01:45 PM

By: ActiveBeat Author

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Several researchers believe that a significant heart problem could represent a critical factor in determining Ludwig van Beethoven’s success in music.

Many people are aware that, when he died in 1827, Beethoven was deaf. But he also struggled with a serious heart condition known as arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. (It’s also worth noting that experts suspect Beethoven was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, lead poisoning, and syphilis when he passed away.)

Joel D. Howell, an internal medicine specialist, says he believes this irregular heartbeat can be detected in Beethoven’s work. “When your heart beats irregularly from heart disease, it does so in some predictable patterns,” Howell says. “We think we hear some of those patterns in his music.”

The researchers also point to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major (Opus 130), which they say features “a short paroxysm of atrial tachyarrhythmia.” Beethoven even wrote that the song should be played with a “heavy heart”.

Howell and the other researchers recognize that their findings will encounter skepticism. However, they feel that, “in highly charged passages of certain pieces, the possibility of cardiac arrhythmia can lend a quite physical aspect to one’s interpretation of the music in question. These passages can seem, in an unexpected literal sense, to be heartfelt.”


Topics: music, researchers, deaf, heart disease, Beethoven, heart, heart beat

Music Ignites Lost Memories in 'Good-News' Film

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Jul 21, 2014 @ 01:18 PM

By Kim Painter

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Music has an unmatched power to bring back our pasts. But what if our memories have been lost to Alzheimer's or some other condition? Can music still work its magic?

A new film, Alive Inside, says yes. The film, opening Friday in New York, features the work of Dan Cohen, a New York social worker who started taking personalized iPods to people with dementia in nursing homes several years ago. Cohen's non-profit Music & Memory got a huge boost in 2012 when an early clip from the film, featuring a gentleman named Henry, became an online sensation. It has been viewed more than 10 million times at various websites, filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett says.

In the clip, Henry, then 94, is shown slumped and unresponsive in a wheelchair – until a nursing home worker places a set of headphones over his ears. Henry comes alive. He scats along with Cab Calloway and sings a soulful I'll Be Home for Christmas. The music "gives me the feeling of love, romance," he says.

Henry has since passed away, but that clip is one big reason that the Music & Memory program is in 640 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Cohen says. He says he won't be satisfied until personalized iPods – loaded with music especially chosen for each participant – are in all 16,000 U.S. nursing homes, available to all 1.6 million residents.

"Ninety-nine percent of these people are still sitting around and doing nothing all day when they could be rocking to their music," he says.

The reasons for Cohen's passion become clear in what Rossato-Bennett dubs "the only good-news film ever made about Alzheimer's." In segment after segment, people with Alzheimer's and other conditions don the headphones, hear the music of their youths and light up. A World War II veteran named John dances in his chair as the Andrews Sisters sing Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Another man holds his wife's hands and sings a duet of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. An agitated woman becomes serene as she dances to strains of Schubert.

Such scenes are interspersed with comments from doctors, including the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who says, "Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus." Others talk about the need to reconnect with lonely, inactive and neglected elders, in and out of nursing homes.

Viewers might come away with the idea that a skillfully loaded iPod is a proven and universally effective cure for all that. In fact, the first big study of Music & Memory is just getting underway in Wisconsin, as part of a state-funded rollout in 200 nursing homes. Researchers will look at whether the approach improves social engagement and reduces agitation, anxiety and depression, say University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers Jung Kwak and Michael Brondino. The study won't focus on memory but will look at overall effects on dementia, Brondino says. One thing they know, he says, is that staffs and patients "absolutely love this program."

The program, which relies on families and aides to work with patients, should not be confused with formal music therapy delivered by professionals trained in that discipline, says Alicia Clair, professor of music education and therapy at the University of Kansas.

Still, she says, "it's a wonderful thing" for many people. Caregivers need to know, she says, that not everyone will respond and that some people can even respond negatively. A song that stirs up sadness or anger might do more harm than good, she says.

Cohen says, "This is not a cure for Alzheimer's, and this does not work for everybody." But, he says, it is something just about anyone can try – something that might open up a whole lost world.

Cohen's tips for setting up an individualized music program and for donating used iPods to the program are at

Alive Inside will open in theaters and be shown in film festivals around the country through mid-September.


Topics: music, alzheimers, memories, film, Dan Cohen, social worker, dementia

Singing nurse integrates passions for music, medicine

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Fri, May 17, 2013 @ 01:40 PM

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Susan Sonnichsen is looking forward to seeing Helen Cross, a patient with dementia who loves hymns. But Cross is having a rough day. Softly, Sonnichsen tells her, “I know something that will make you feel better. How about a song?’’

She starts in with “Joy in My Heart,’’ followed by “Old Rugged Cross’’ and then a favorite, “Amazing Grace.’’ Sonnichsen’s voice fills the space between nurse and patient. Slowly, Cross allows Sonnichsen to take her hand. “OK, we’re getting somewhere,’’ Sonnichsen says, smiling at Cross.

Sonnichsen has been singing ever since she was a kid belting out songs during family road trips. But in her 30 years in nursing, she never knew it could fit into her work. A dementia class for staff at Hospice of the Valley changed all that and today, music is as much a part of her care as is taking a patient’s vital signs.

“They love to sing along,’’ Sonnichsen says. “Even if they’re off key, it’s wonderful to engage them.’’ She prefers old gospel hymns and tunes from popular musicals, but happily takes requests and learns new songs. When a patient is close to death, she sings a lullaby and offers a gentle touch. When a family asks, she gladly sings at patients’ memorials. Some of her colleagues call her the singing nurse.

“Anyone who has enjoyed the experience of hearing Susan sing can attest that her ability to emote through music is a true gift,’’ says Hospice of the Valley social worker Donna Wetzel.

Sonnichsen says integrating her two callings, music and medicine, is a blessing.

“It’s amazing when patients join in with you. It just fills your heart,’’ she says. “It just touches you, makes you feel like that’s why you’re here.’’

Source: AZ Central

Topics: music, singing, dementia, nurse, medicine, healing

Nursing Student Brings the Joy of Music to Pediatric Patients

Posted by Alycia Sullivan

Thu, Jan 03, 2013 @ 01:28 PM

When Mary Jo Holuba enters a child’s hospital room, it’s not uncommon for the child’s eyes to widen. After all, most nurses are dressed in scrubs, not princess dresses.

Not Holuba. She’s different. She’s a nursing student in the pediatric nurse practitioner program at Johns Hopkins University, but she’s also a classically trained soprano whose soaring voice can transport her listeners far beyond the sterile confines of a hospital or clinic.

In between classes and studying, Holuba dons the fanciful gowns of fairytale characters and performs for pediatric patients and their families. Sometimes she gives them a full-on presentation, complete with storytelling and grand gestures and songs. And sometimes, she sits next to a child, holds her hand, and quietly croons her to sleep. She takes her cues from the children.

Either way, she is grateful for the chance to use her gift to help sick children feel better. Even just for the length of a song.

“It’s a great thing to see my dream of fusing my passions--nursing and music--happen,” said Holuba, 23.

As a little girl in New Jersey, Holuba spent many hours visiting a young relative in the hospital, which gave her some natural comfort with the hospital environment. Later, as a teenager, she participated in high school and community theater, honing her performing skills. Remembering her own family’s experience, Holuba called up the local children’s hospital and asked if she could come entertain the children.

She had a calling.

When she was a sophomore in high school, her father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Over the years, he received treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, including three different stem cell transplants. As she observed his nurses at work, the idea of a possible career in nursing was first planted.

Holuba eventually went on to major in psychology at Columbia University, graduating in three years. Then she enrolled in the accelerated BSN program at Johns Hopkins. She even recorded a CD of beloved Christmas songs, at her father’s encouraging.

“He really loved it,” Holuba said. “He took full credit for it being his idea…We played it for him that last Christmas, and it was really great to see his smile while it was on.” She was privileged to spend some time with her father before he died in January 2012.

After returning to school, she finished her BSN during the summer and began her current master’s degree program.

In Baltimore, Holuba had discovered Dr. Bob’s Place, a palliative-care home for terminally ill infants and children. Ever since that discovery, she has committed herself to weekly visits. Even when she’s trying to juggle all the demands of her program, she always finds time to visit the children.

“I make the time for this as if it were a job,” she said. “It’s really important to me, and I know how much it means to the families. I’ve been that family member where the hours can’t pass quickly enough.”

She loves seeing the children respond to her costume and to the music. She always takes requests from the young patients. She’s equally enthusiastic about slightly off-key group renditions of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as she is about the big Broadway-style numbers that she performs. And when children ask her to sing songs that she doesn’t know, she just encourages the children to teach them to her.

“It’s always fun to make music with them.”

She sees them as children who love music and singing and dancing, not just “sick kids.” “I think that’s a nice change for them,” she said.

With all of her experience, Holuba believes strongly in the value of good end-of-life care and palliative care. Many people don’t want to talk about death or dying, but she realizes it is part of the life process. She hopes to continue exploring her devotion to helping people at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

Her future will certainly include music, too. This spring, Holuba plans to begin visiting the pediatric patients at Johns Hopkins, in addition to Dr. Bob’s. She’ll also continue her course work, with her dream of becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner still in mind. She’s considering a future working with children with cancer in an outpatient setting.

“It’s really just about sharing the music and sharing the time,” she said.

Copyright © 2012. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Topics: nursing student, music, pediatric, nursing, children, hospital

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