While music therapy is for individuals of all ages, it is often recommended as a form of treatment for children. But, in recent years, studies have shown that music therapy is also beneficial to patients in hospice care, particularly those experiencing anxiety and a great level of discomfort. More and more, music therapy programs are being added to hospices, and certified music therapists are also seeing additional employment opportunities in these areas.
All of this begs the question: How can music therapy help hospice patients in their final days? Can it really promote feelings of healing and well-being? First, let’s take a look at what music therapy entails and consists of.
Understanding Music Therapy
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” The benefits of it include everything from managing stress and anxiety to alleviating pain to promoting wellness.1
Music therapy can also take on many forms, such as aiding patients with music-assisted relaxation, promoting music imagery, encouraging movement or dance, and creating space for one-on-one or group singing.2
Now that we have a better understanding of music therapy, below we will uncover ways in which it can help those experiencing end-of-life transitions improve their quality of life.
1. Relaxes and Calms Patients
Over the years, it’s been reported that music therapy can physically calm patients who may be anxious or agitated. In fact, through the use of medical monitors, clinical workers have noticed lower blood pressure and heart rates when an instrument is played, or a music therapist is singing.3 Soft music, whether as a recording or live, has shown that music has the capability to relax patients who are in end-of-life care, as it can provide relief from feelings of anxiousness and stress.
2. Lifts Spirits and Boosts Patients’ Moods
Since music can be associated with positive feelings, as well as outwardly forms of expression, it’s also been found to lift a patient’s spirit and increase their state of well-being. A study revealed that 96 percent of patients who were undergoing music therapy had a positive response to their experience, which was observed in their mood, facial expressions and vocalization.4
It’s also worth noting that these positive feelings can be extended to family members and loved ones of a hospice patient. 5 Through music therapy, families can feel a sense of comfort as well as connected in a special way.
3. Helps Patients Heal Painful Memories and Relive Positive Ones
The power of music therapy can be multi-faceted – it can help patients work through emotional attachments of difficult periods in their lives, while at the same time it can spur positive memories and associations they may have recalling other meaningful life events.
According to the Seniors Bluebook, Resources for Aging Well, music therapists can also incorporate music as part of a patient’s life story. Whether they use music therapy to write new songs or help a patient put together a songbook, it can serve as a useful tool to reduce anxiety and bring forth positive feelings. 6
Regardless of what complementary treatment may be part of a hospice patient’s care plan, music therapy may be a suitable option that can provide comfort and a sense of calm for patients who need relief from their distressing emotions.
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1 American Music Therapy Association, “AMTA Official Definition of Music Therapy,” 2005.
2,6 Seniors Bluebook, Resources for Aging Well, “Music Therapy for Hospice Patients Delivers Benefits and Spurs Memories,” 2021.
3, 5 U.S. and World Report News, “How Music Therapy Helps Terminally Ill Patients,” January 25, 2017.
4 MedPage Today, “Music Therapy Improves Symptoms and Behaviors of Palliative Care Patients,” March 1, 2018.