As a music therapist, Marina Beckwith spends much of her time working with people nearing the end of their lives.
She uses her gift of and love for song especially to get through to Alzheimer’s disease patients who might not be able to communicate. Her goal is to stimulate their minds as the debilitating disease progresses.
“Some people stop talking; there are all different stages (of Alzheimer’s),” Beckwith said. “They usually will respond to music in some way. Music affects many parts of the brain. A lot of people, even if they don’t talk, will sing along with music. It’s something they remember.”
Beckwith works for Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care of Arizona, which has offices throughout the country. She also sees residents in places such as Scottsdale Freedom Inn and Caring for Loved Ones, an assisted-living home.
A graduate of Arizona State University who said she has always loved music, the 25-year-old Beckwith started at Seasons Hospice in April 2006 when she became a board-certified music therapist. Before that, she completed a six-month music therapy internship at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.
An internship is the final requirement for a Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy, the minimum degree required to practice as a music therapist.
The faces of residents at Caring for Loved Ones lit up as Beckwith worked with a small group late Friday morning. She strummed her guitar and sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “Bicycle Built for Two” to remind her audience of tunes from their youth. The songs struck a chord as residents, including Jim Keller, smiled broadly and sang along enthusiastically.
Hattie Thompson, 104, who doesn’t talk much, chose not to sing on this day, but she mimicked Beckwith’s gestures, another way of putting Thompson’s mind to work.
“It means so much to all the people who are in here,” resident Hattie West said of Beckwith’s presence. “We enjoy having her here every time.”
According to Beckwith and Patrice Kreitler, executive director of Seasons Arizona, Beckwith’s work can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.
Kreitler said Beckwith is also a counselor and part of the group’s interdisciplinary team.
“She brings hope to people who are in their final days,” Kreitler said. “I believe we are one of the few hospices in the country who embrace music therapy. Marina works with our social workers. It’s not just care for the patients, but care for their families as well. I can’t imagine our program without her.”
Beckwith said she can also help an agitated person by playing a song. If she plays a tune at a slower tempo, chances are an individual will calm down. She has worked with several patients to compose their own songs, which can be left to family members on CDs and sheet music as their legacy.
“You trick people into therapy,” Beckwith said. “It’s an honor to be allowed in the last days of someone’s life, to meet their families and give back to them for what they have done for all of us. I’ve been present when people are actually dying. A lot of people might think it’s depressing, but it’s humbling. I really like going to work every day.”