Music Therapy in Hospice

“Music therapy is an established allied health profession and is used with increased frequency in the treatment of those with terminal illness,” (Hilliard, 2005). The author states this article reviews the imperial studies found in the literature and documents of an evidence-based approach of music therapy in hospice and palliative care. 

With new music therapy programs, more families and patients have access to this service at end-of-life care. This article states that methods used by music therapists include songwriting, improvisation, guided imagery and music, lyric analysis, singing, instrument playing, and relaxation techniques. These methods contribute to the care of increased socialization, emotional well-being, cognitive stimulation, decrease pain, and spiritual support. Hilliard also states that music therapy is rich in qualitative studies. Not only does music therapy patient needs and hospice and palliative care, it also addresses family needs. 

Eleven studies were evaluated for this article. Five of the studies were published in scholarly journals, five were unpublished Master’s theses, and one was from a book of conference proceedings. 

For example, in one single study music therapy session by Curtis entitled “The effect of music on pain relief and relaxation of the terminally ill” was found that individual responses for music assisted relaxation were effective. Another pilot study found that with biofeedback technology heart rate scores decreased from approximately 85 beats per minute before session to 77 beats per minute after session and breathing rate decreased by four breaths per minute from the start of music therapy. A study in 2003 showed that with vocal improvisation focusing on treating discomfort with inpatient hospice clients, within 20 minutes of music therapy, data found there was a decrease in discomfort. All of these studies show that different types of interventions and music therapy approaches can benefit all different types of hospice and palliative care clients. 

“Research into hospice and palliative care is important in many ways… creating an evidence base will assist clinicians in establishing best practices… provide reimbursement from government agencies and other funding sources… provide assurance in allocation of funds and raise the standard of care for patients… and test existing forms of therapy to ensure their efficacy.”

By Gwen D’Amico, MT-BC

Hilliard, R. E. (2005). Music therapy in hospice and palliative care: a review of the empirical data. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2(2), 173-178.