Bekoff, Margie

As part of my training in the International Harp Therapy Program, I completed 80 hours of internship work which included 40 hours of work primarily at Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Middlebury, Vermont. During my internship, I identified residents with dementia as my primary focus. In addition, I work at local hospitals and with hospice patients in my community.

Music can serve as a means of communication for people with dementia when words are no longer available. Live harp music has been shown to be very effective in eliciting responses and opening avenues of communication for people who otherwise are very isolated by their disease. Music making can be used to provide a shared activity between a person with dementia and their family and/or friends. Depending upon the level of functioning of an individual, I can engage them in singing songs, having them play the harp, and/or having them accompany me on hand bells that I provide. The music also functions well in distracting people from their situation. I work at a number of residential care facilities and nursing homes with individuals and with small groups.

I have also been supported by a grant at Fletcher Allen Hospital targeted  at patients receiving chemotherapy as outpatients, and inpatients with cancer. The music is effective at relaxing patients, decreasing pain perception, and encouraging people to talk about their life and experiences. Familiar music can bring forth many memories and associations.

There are advantages to having a live musician present as compared to having people listen to recorded music. Specifically, I can make adjustments in tempo, volume and the selected song according to the response of the person (respiratory rate and other bodily movements) for whom I’m playing. I play known pieces as well as improvisational arrangements in different traditional modes depending upon the person’s needs. When playing for someone who is dying, improvisation and unfamiliar music aids in their relaxing and letting go. I find that relatives, friends and staff of the person who is dying have benefited from the harp music as well.