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Music Therapy for Hospice Patients

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 at 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 FAQs

Q. Does the patient need prior training in music?
A. No. Symptoms, patient/family interest and response to a music therapy assessment determine whether music therapy is appropriate.

Q. Does the patient have to be alert and oriented to benefit from music therapy?
A. No. Music can trigger meaningful emotions and memories for disoriented patients, thereby improving communication, mood and quality of life.

Q. Will minimally responsive patients be able to hear the music?
A. Hearing is thought to be one of the last active senses, so music therapy may be quite appropriate for unresponsive patients.

Q. Should music therapy be private?
A. At times, privacy may be necessary. But generally, family participation is actively encouraged to enhance the connection between loved ones.

Q. Can all patients benefit from music therapy?
A. While beneficial for many patients, music can increase agitation and anxiety in others. Not every patient and family will be interested in music therapy. Music therapists are trained in assessment and will never continue therapy if a patient displays a negative or harmful response.

*Music therapy is not available in every VITAS location. Please contact your local program for more information.