Music Therapy at the End of Life

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Music Therapy at the End of Life

Music therapy is an integrative approach to treating illness and supporting people at all stages of life. It has become widely used in hospital and community settings as a tool for pain management, anxiety reduction, stress reduction, emotional support for patients and overall quality of life enhancement. When patients require palliative care in the later stages of life, music therapy can offer comfort to them and their families during difficult times such as terminal illness.

At a hospice, music therapists employ various interventions to meet the diverse needs of patients and their families, such as songwriting, improvisation, lyric analysis, instrument playing, relaxation techniques, reminiscence sessions and singing. Not only does this help individuals cope with loss and grief; but it can also create meaningful life-affirming experiences.

For those unable to work with a music therapist, other musicians or groups can provide musical support. This could range from solo artists specializing in one genre or group of songs to a cappella singers. While they don’t need certification as music therapists, Ann Hannan, director of the music therapy program at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis states that experience working with individuals nearing death is beneficial.

One of the most popular ways for patients to benefit from music is through receptive approaches, such as listening to live or pre-recorded music. Often this is done using a technique known as “song choice.” The patient selects a song that accurately conveys their feelings to their music therapist. This approach may be especially useful when verbal reminiscence cannot take place due to advanced cancer or when patients feel too afraid to express them verbally.

At Villa Marie Claire Hospice in Saddle River, New Jersey, for instance, patients can select their favorite songs from a collection of volunteer-curated tunes – such as Frank Sinatra’s. While this type of intervention may not be available everywhere, some hospitals and hospices may provide it as an option for some.

Chaim, a man diagnosed with brain cancer who passed away in his sleep, wrote an opera with the assistance of a music therapist during hospice. Though it was an impossible task, Chaim found solace through music as it helped him process grief and find closure.

The music therapist was able to draw upon Chaim’s life story and his desire to create art that would remind him of his deceased loved ones and himself. While she didn’t know how long the project would last, she encouraged Chaim to pursue it and provided the structure necessary for success.

Studies have suggested that music therapy can benefit terminally ill patients and their families. However, results are mixed, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly how effective or cost-effective this form of care truly is. Despite these limitations, these studies show promise for reducing pain, fatigue and depression as well as improving mood and sense of well-being. Further investigation is necessary in order to fully comprehend both advantages and drawbacks associated with using music therapy in end-of-life care – especially regarding its effectiveness and accessibility.

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- Welcome, SoundTherapy.com lowers anxiety 86%, pain 77%, and boosts memory 11-29%. Click on the brain to sign up or share with buttons below to help others: