Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care

Recently I was asked by the hospice company where I work to write an article about what I do as a music therapist. I’m sharing it here with you so that you may also get a clearer sense of what music therapy is and the role it can play within the realms of hospice and palliative care:

Imagine that you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or have been given a prognosis that curative treatments are no longer a viable option for your condition(s). Perhaps you have some form of dementia and are gradually losing your ability to recognize or maneuver in the world around you. Your ability to recall the life youve lived seems to slip away with each passing day.

Loved ones may come to visit you, but you no longer know who they are or remember that they came. Maybe relationships are strained and your loved ones no longer visit you. Perhaps you are the last person alive from your family.

You feel alone, isolated. You may be living in a facility where there is much activity around you, but nothing looks familiar and few people there seem to have the time to simply be with you- to hear you. This is not where you intended to die, nor how you intended to die.

One day this unfamiliar person carrying a musical instrument approaches you. That person greets you with a friendly smile and begins singing a song that stirs up memories from long ago.

This continues for a bit, and familiar songs are sung or recordings listened to. This new person offers you a choice of easy-to-play instruments so that you can play along, and maybe you even engaged in a little chair dancing since your body couldnt help but move in response to the music.

You recognize that prior to this entertaining visit you had felt pain, but now you feel comfort. You notice, as well, that you feel a little less anxious than you did before the visit began. Maybe you were even able to recall stories from your past that you had long forgotten.

That entertaining visit you just participated in was music therapy.

Music therapy is a healthcare profession in which a credentialed music therapist (MT-BC, RMT, CMT) uses music-based interventions designed to improve or maintain functioning in a variety of areas, including: motor, physiological, social/emotional, sensory, communicative, or cognition.

In hospice and palliative care, music therapists largely work to reduce pain perception and anxiety, promote relaxation, provide psychosocial/spiritual support for both patient and family, as well as enhance a persons quality of life in a way that recognizes those parts within the person that are still healthy and intact.

While somewhat small in number, there have been studies which show the efficacy and benefit of including music therapy as part of hospice and palliative care. Below are links to some research that may be of interest to you. It is through studies such as these that an evidenced-based approach to the use of music therapy in hospice and palliative care can be further developed.

Lucanne Magill-Levreault. Journal of Palliative Care. 1993, 9(4): 42-48.

Russell E. Hilliard. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2005, 2(2): 173-178. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neh076.

Robert E. Krout. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care. November/December 2001, 18(6): 383-390. doi: 10.1177/104990910101800607.

Lisa M. Gallagher, Ruth Lagman, et. al. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2006, 11(8): 859-866. doi: 10.1007/s00520-005-0013-6.

Anne Horne-Thompson and Denise Grocke. Journal of Palliative Medicine. May 2008, 11(4): 582-590. doi:10.1089/jpm.2007.0193.



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