When Noel Thompson was sent to the Emergency Trauma Department at Hackensack University Medical Center by his podiatrist on April 4, with a possible infection in his right foot, the 96 year old was nervous.

It was a violinist who helped him get through.  

A volunteer playing the violin came right to Mr. Thompson's bedside, via a personal Zoom performance, which was just what the doctor ordered - getting his mind off the infection and onto the soothing sounds of his classical favorites. 

The concert for one happened through Hackensack University Medical Center's Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP).

Recognizing the toll unexpected hospital stays can have on patients, especially older patients like Noel, HUMC runs a comprehensive initiative to prevent delirium, maintain cognitive abilities, and maximize function in older adult patients.

This care is delivered by a team of Geriatricians, Elder Life Specialist, specially trained volunteers and most recently, musicians. 

Why musicians? Several scientific studies show music has a profound effect on individuals - from helping improve the recovery of motor and cognitive function in stroke patients, to reducing symptoms of depression in patients suffering from dementia - even helping patients post surgery to experience less pain and heal faster.

The musicians, many of whom are medical students at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, perform remotely while volunteers display their performances on handheld devices so the patients can watch and listen during their hospitalization. For Noel, the “beautiful music”, as he describes it, gave him a respite from his worries for a few moments. “I felt like I was in church,” he says. 

“We play all kinds of music for our patients,” says Andrew Huang, a third year medical student who plays several instruments, including the guitar, who participated in a similar project while attending college. Here, at Hackensack University Medical Center, Andrew along with co-medical students, Gabrielle O'Dougherty, who plays the violin and Vince Gerald Dagot, who plays the piano, love to engage the patients by taking requests and having sing-alongs. 

“Music feeds your soul,” says another patient, 72 year old Ruth Spear, who spent a week at the hospital after being treated for blood clots. “I don’t watch television and so I would do crosswords and color to pass the time but it was tough. The music program was truly a highlight of my stay,” says Ruth who especially enjoyed a few Beatles tunes. You can see a video of Ruth’s serenade by clicking here. 

Ruth Spear

“Billy Joel once said music in itself is healing and I couldn’t agree more,” says Nadine Benoit, MPA, Elder Life Specialist of HELP. “You can instantly see the change in a patient when that music starts to play, it’s almost magical to watch and we’re so grateful to these busy medical students who volunteer their time and their talent to our program.”

In addition to the recreational music, other HELP services include: 

  • Stimulation and cognitive orientation activities
  • Assistance with meals
  • Companionship
  • Exercise and mobilization
  • Family support and education
  • Hearing and vision aids
  • Preventing dehydration
  • Sleep enhancement strategies

 Over the past 14 years, the HELP has worked with more than 900 volunteers at Hackensack University Medical Center.  

 Noel was discharged from Hackensack University Medical Center on April 10 and will continue his recovery at a rehabilitation center. Since Summer 2021, three to four patients most weekdays continue to benefit from the soothing sounds provided by the medical students and other volunteers via Zoom, Facetime, or Google Duo.  


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