Music can sometimes do what medication cannot

The 90-year-old patient with Alzheimer’s disease is withdrawn and rarely communicates. Yet when the woman with the guitar enters her room, the patient’s face lights up. Together, they sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” She becomes animated, singing, smiling, moving in her wheelchair. She’s transported to a time when she was dancing with her husband on their wedding day.

Allison Gunnink (photo courtesy of Allison Gunnink)

Allison Gunnink (photo courtesy of Allison Gunnink)

Allison Gunnink is a music therapist who visits hospice patients in their homes, nursing homes and assisted living communities throughout Chicagoland. She brings her music and instruments, but more importantly, she brings empathy, compassion and caring that she communicates through her music.

For hospice patients facing life-limiting illnesses, music therapy can decrease pain and symptoms that are difficult to control with medication, promote deeper breathing, help to manage anxiety and agitation, and provide an outlet for emotional expression and a means of coping. Many hospices hire trained music therapists to visit their patients.

“Sometimes what a hospice patient needs most is a way to express feelings without talking. Music brings out emotions without anyone having to ask a lot of questions,” says Allison. “Music therapists help patients and their families reconnect to feelings, memories and each other in a way that brings peace and happiness.”

(Provided by VITAS Innovative Hospice Care, which provides hospice care to patients and families throughout the Chicagoland area. Go to

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