Music Therapy for Hospice Patients
VITAS music therapist Peggy Grace plays guitar and sings* with patient Patricia Browder, who is in her 80s and living with dementia. The session highlights the joyous power of musical intervention.
Music therapy is more than a music activity in a nursing home or hospice facility. It is the clinical and evidence-based use of music intervention by a board-certified music therapist. It assesses the strengths and needs of the patient and designs a plan of treatment that includes creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to live, patient-preferred music within individual, group and/or family sessions.
Because music is non-threatening, enjoyable, and enhances brain function, people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and abilities can gain therapeutic benefits through music therapy. When offered to those near the end of life, music therapy can bind with other healing efforts to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of hospice patients. While not appropriate for every hospice patient, music therapy can be surprisingly effective with an otherwise unresponsive patient.
Who Can Benefit from Hospice Music Therapy?
Music therapy provides the most benefit to patients who:
- Lack social interaction or sensory stimulation
- Experience pain and symptoms that are difficult to control through traditional medical interventions
- Feel anxious or are affected by dementia
- Look for a concrete way to cope or to define or articulate feelings or thoughts
- Face communication problems due to physical or intellectual impairments
- Need spiritual support, possibly involving other family members
- Enjoy music to enhance their quality of life or maintain dignity
What Techniques Are Used During Music Therapy?
Music therapists draw from an extensive array of music activities and interventions. For example, the therapist and patient might compose songs to help express feelings; a patient might learn to play the piano to improve fine motor skills or use musical instruments to cope with unspoken emotions.
Music therapy is not available in every VITAS location. Please contact your local program for more information.
*VITAS does not own the rights to this music.
Frequently Asked Questions About Music Therapy
- Does the patient need prior training in music for hospice music therapy to be effective? No, they don't.
Does the patient have to be alert and oriented to benefit from music therapy?
Music can trigger meaningful emotions and memories for disoriented patients, thereby improving communication, mood, and quality of life.
- Will minimally responsive patients benefit from hospice music therapy? Hearing is thought to be the last active sense to lapse before death.
Should hospice music therapy be private?
At times, privacy may be necessary.
But generally, family participation is actively encouraged to enhance the connection between loved ones.
- Can all patients benefit from music therapy? While beneficial for many patients, music can increase agitation and anxiety in others.