Meet music therapist Deborah Gromack, director of Homestead program at Goddard House, who believes music provides a new doorway to healing and emotional balance for people suffering from a range of maladies.
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Finding Solace in Music Mary Lynn Schiavl: Poet Maya Angelo wrote, “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind. Music has been recognized throughout the ages for its value to sooth the soul and awaken the heart. For a music therapist Deborah A. Gromack Director of Homestead Program at Goddard House music provides a new doorway to healing an emotional balance for people suffering from a wide range of maladies. Gromack: What I try to do by bringing the arts into my practice is to help the person piece together their experiences. Illness is traumatic. It’s fragmenting. With Alzheimer’s disease you're losing parts of yourself and you’re piecing together what you have left and you’re trying to make sense of it. Mary Lynn Schiavl: According to Gromack the arts can help a person piece together elements of themselves that are still remaining and can help them access at a preconscious level emotions that they don’t have at a verbal level. Gromack: They’re not aware and they can’t bring to a concrete level of expression verbally. So what music can do is to access that emotional content either through instrument playing or lyric singing and the experience can be cathartic. Mary Lynn Schiavl: Deborah Gromack has a special compassion for those with Alzheimer’s. She sees it as a lonely and isolating disease because it causes those suffering from it to lose their higher cognitive functions and their ability to effectively communicate. Gromack: Music is a great way for them to still engage with another person at the level that that person happens to be at so whether or not the lyric content of the song is remembered in its totality that doesn’t matter. I somebody is able to come along to the music they can engage, they can be understood, they can understand, they can feel like they’re part of a communal experience. Mary Lynn Schiavl: According to Gromack there are many dimensions to what a person feels suffering from this disease. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s one often begins to confront the laws that looms ahead. Gromack: Somebody with Alzheimer’s disease is also losing their memory so they are grieving multiple loses. They’re losing parts of themselves they’re not only looking at the certainty of their own death as a product of age. They are looking in the early stages at least with and awareness. Who am I and do I matter and what was my life, how can I make sense of this? I have to quite honestly say I have not spoken yet with someone yet and I qualify this with someone in the early stages who said to me, “What did I do to deserve this?” Mary Lynn Schiavl: Gromack has observed enormous grace and dignity among Alzheimer’s patients and an attempt to remain connected with some sort of expression or deity or energy that’s greater than oneself and to remain a contributing member of a community. Gromack: There is that grace and that dignity that I still see and as a person progresses in their diseased process I do everything I can to help them maintain that dignity, that sense of dignity and wholeness through the music, through just daily interaction with them and the mundane doesn’t have to be extraordinary but even the smallest interactions can have that quality if they’re imbued with a sense of dignity and respect for that person. So the reason why I’m looking at the spirit with this population is that, that dignity and that grace is still intact even when that person is dying.

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