Good Vibrations

Therapeutic music coming to nursing homes

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Armed with a harp, JULIE REHDER (pictured right) has sat beside people in pain or distress and played for them, tailoring music to soothe them and help their breathing and heart rates.

“We’re creating this sympathetic vibration between the two of us,” says Rehder, a certified music practitioner and project coordinator of the Therapeutic Musicians of Coastal Carolina. “It’s a really interesting dance.”

The group soon will play harps and flutes in area nursing homes through a grant project recently approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“Despite excellent clinical care, residents living in skilled nursing facilities can experience loneliness, confusion, fear, pain, anxiety, as well as other physical conditions that impact their quality of life,” Rehder wrote in the grant application.

Therapeutic music can help improve mood, support a healthy resting heart rate and respiration, reduce agitation and the need for certain pharmaceutical interventions, lessen anxiety and pain, promote communication, enhance restful sleep, and aid in end-of-life transition, the application states.

“We don’t profess curing at all,” Rehder says. “We provide a healing environment to help body, mind, and soul get into its own kind of rhythm.”

The grant provides $440,080 for eight certified therapeutic musicians including fellow harpist SUSAN CREASY (pictured left) to visit nursing homes in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties over the next three years. Funding comes from civil money penalties imposed when some nursing homes fail to meet certain requirements.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will monitor the project, expected to start in August.

“NCDHHS is excited about this program as a meaningful way to support nursing home residents in our state,” says DHHS communications manager KELLY HAIGHT CONNOR.

Evaluations will be made on resident satisfaction, observation of heart rates and breathing and changes in falls, medications, behaviors and weight, the grant application says.

Rehder, who was trained through the Music for Healing and Transition Program, worked at the Davis Community in Porters Neck as its marketing and public relations administer. The grant project is an expansion of a privately funded therapeutic music program Rehder coordinated at Davis before retiring. She spoke to WILMA in 2013 about planning that program, which ran until 2019.

Not wanting the music to end, Rehder spent about a year writing the grant for the upcoming project.

Participating nursing homes will include: Bradley Creek Health Center, Trinity Grove, Davis Health Care Center, Davis Health & Wellness at Cambridge Village, North Chase Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Azalea Health & Rehab Center, Liberty Commons Rehabilitation Center, The Laurels of Pender, Pender Memorial Hospital, and Woodbury Wellness & Rehab.

“I was destined to take the harp and use it as an instrument of healing, and that’s what I’m hoping my legacy will be,” Rehder says.

WILMA: How is music tailored to residents?

Rehder: “We look at acute, non-acute situations. We look at memory issues, dementia or Alzheimer’s. We look at end-of-life, pain, anxiety, sleeplessness. Whether we play faster music, slower music, at this tempo, something familiar, not familiar, something rhythmic or non-rhythmic, we are trained to play specific things for specific conditions. And the beauty of what we do – we can change in the moment.”


WILMA: Share an example of how you use music to help.

Rehder: “Our goal with someone in pain would be to stop that constant reinforcement of the beat of that pain throbbing and provide very elongated music that does not reinforce that particular rhythm. What we’re trying to do is break that and allow the person to relax. So we match where they are – we’ll start out at that boom, boom, boom level – and then we’re going to slowly take them down with us.”


WILMA: Why are harps and flutes so effective?

Rehder:  “The vibration level of a harp is extraordinary, and the flute has a similar situation. When I take this harp into a facility it calms me down. When I put that harp on my shoulder I immediately get those vibrations right into my body – all those organs that need the massage that music gives.”


WILMA: What impact do you hope to have on nursing home residents?

Rehder: “We want to make an environment in the facilities that is loving, caring, dignified, and that allows choice. So if a resident can choose, ‘I’d rather not take a sleeping pill, and I’d like to hear some quiet music – would you play me some lullabies?’ Daggone right I’m going to do that. And if we have someone who is dying and they have no one left in their family, it is our honor and a privilege to sit at that bedside and be with that person as they’re crossing over.”

To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to

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Categories: Health