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Northwestern alumna designs music therapy programs for patients
Mar 23, 2012 | 521 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Debi Cost visited with Ida Ruth Lenz, a former nurse who lives in memory care in Clear Lake, Texas.  Lenz is a South Carolina native who raised four children, including two adopted from Korea.  “She enjoys her classical, smooth jazz and even though she uses a walker, Miss Ida will bust a move when the right oldie but goodie comes on,” Cost said.
Debi Cost visited with Ida Ruth Lenz, a former nurse who lives in memory care in Clear Lake, Texas. Lenz is a South Carolina native who raised four children, including two adopted from Korea. “She enjoys her classical, smooth jazz and even though she uses a walker, Miss Ida will bust a move when the right oldie but goodie comes on,” Cost said.
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It has long been recognized that music has a peculiar connection to the human brain, able to stimulate mood and cognition through rhythm, melody and repetition. Noted for its therapeutic qualities and tendency to evoke emotional response, music is being used more and more in the medical field to supplement medication treatment. While neurologists, psychiatrists and other scientists continue to study how the brain processes music, Northwestern State alumna Debi Cost (1995) witnesses the power of music through her job with Coro Health, an Austin, Texas-based company that provides individualized Music Prescriptions™ for people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other conditions, such as the long-term effects of stroke.

Cost spends much of her time in memory care, primarily with Alzheimer’s patients, coordinating audio therapy for individuals whose music prescriptions help them address anxiety, depression, agitation and other psychological and physiological behaviors. Through her work, Cost has gained an understanding of the role music plays in fostering an improved quality of life.

“It’s something that we all take for granted, but when you see a brain on music, it’s amazing,” she said. “We’ve witnessed some emotional stories. Tears always seem to appear. It’s the only job I have ever had where I get to witness magic. It’s the only way I can explain it.”

Cost’s company engages therapists, music designers and neuroscientists to create sequenced music prescriptions to suit each individual person. Prescriptions can be designed for specific outcomes, helping them to wake, sleep, relax or energize, with sensitivity to genre, key, beats per minute and volume. Therapeutic music can improve the long-term care experience for both the resident and caregivers, she said.

“One day, I was visiting a memory care wing and I met a man who was very upset and wanted his music out,” she said. “I could have just picked up his unit and walked out, but I didn’t. I had been told he is pretty grumpy on most days and hard to please. I stayed with him and finally got him to open up and share with me that he liked Big Band swing music and Glen Miller. So I went back the next day with his new music prescription. I walked into his room and even as I turned it on, I was still nervous from his anger the day before. Then I hit play and waited. In just a few seconds, he said ‘Keep it on.’ A lump formed in my throat and as I walked out he said ‘Hey, thank you.’ I replied with humble smile and said ‘Sir, you are most welcome.’ I cried the entire way home.”

Although some cultures have used music in medicine for thousands of years, modern clinical studies in music therapy did not emerge until the U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals began to incorporate music therapy to help treat World War II veterans for post traumatic stress disorder. Today, music therapy is being used in tandem with other treatment to address emotional and psychological symptoms for a variety of people.

Results of recent clinical trials conducted by the University of California Mind and Brain Center indicate a 27-54 percent reduction in agitation and depression over a six-month period for residents in memory care who utilize Coro Health’s therapeutic music. Those results were published last year in the Journal of Music and Medicine. As a mood elevator, music can also play a role in treatment for cancer, chronic pain and other health challenges.

“I have had friends and fellow alumni reach out to me and ask questions after family members have been diagnosed,” Cost said.

Cost graduated from Northwestern with a Bachelor of Science degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, a concentration in fashion merchandising and a minor in business. She worked in the commercial industry for several years, working with music design teams to create music environments for retail, hospitality and fitness firms before joining the Coro Health team, where she experiences the way music can improve people’s lives on an emotional, physical and behavioral level.

“I love what I do and making a difference is the exact reason I came on board with Coro,” Cost said. “There is a beautiful quote, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ by Gandhi and we hope that with what we are doing and with proven clinical trials that the power of music will be a part of all care-plans for those who are living in long term care.”

Inspiring stories and insights are available on Coro Health’s youtube channel at youtube.com/user/CoroHealth.

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