How Music Therapy Provides Relief for Palliative Care Patients

Music can give relief for those dealing with the most detrimental of medical conditions

Palliative and hospice care include specialized medical treatment for those suffering from serious or terminal health conditions. Palliative care aims to provide relief from medical symptoms alongside curative interventions. Music therapy is an ideal treatment option to help hospice care patients gain relief from their medical and personal woes. Music’s ability to relax the mind and body can produce remarkable relief and results in hospice patients. Read further below to learn more about the possibilities of music therapy in palliative care

  • The general relationship between music therapy and hospice care
  • List of palliative care symptoms music can help relieve
  • Descriptions of how each symptoms is relieved
Older person holding tennis ball for physical therapy
Music therapy is one of many effective treatments for those in hospice care. Image courtesy of

Palliative Care and Music Therapy 

For those dealing with medical conditions for which a cure is difficult to find or no longer possible, music therapy can be a fitting treatment option. Music therapy techniques can help alleviate both psychological and physical symptoms of hospice care patients. 

Countless music therapists are equipped to provide services to those in hospice and palliative care facilities. Along with standard medical relief interventions, music therapy aims to alleviate the suffering of those with serious or terminal conditions. Group and family sessions can bring a social aspect to the already relaxing effects of music. Techniques such as songwriting, music listening, and playing instruments allow patients to express themselves while improving their moods. Although palliative care facilities tend to a variety of medical conditions, there are common symptoms that music therapy has been shown to successfully address. 

Music Therapy and Symptom Relief

Memory Loss

Music therapy can help with various medical conditions that impact one’s memory performance, with common memory-impairing conditions including dementia and Alzheimer’s. These conditions tend to affect one’s short-term memory more than long-term memory. This means that it’s more difficult for these patients to retain new information, but they may recall memories from their past. 

Music from one’s past can help trigger stored long-term memories while also leaving one feeling more connected to their past. Long-term memories are also stored throughout the brain rather than in one area, making music memories easier to hold onto throughout the duration of one’s medical condition. Music therapy can also rebuild neuronal connections in the brain and partially rehabilitate its memory performance. Music therapy can reconnect palliative care patients to their past selves, providing a comfortable familiarity during their hospice stay.


Music can help hospice care patients relax both physically and psychologically enough to alleviate insomnia symptoms. The discomfort and pain that most serious medical conditions cause can make sleep nearly unattainable. Struggling with medical issues can also trigger changes in mental health such as anxiety and depression that make fatigue and lack of sleep recurring issues. 

Music therapy is a perfect treatment option for insomnia without the side effects that sleep aid medications often include. Music therapy has been shown to shorten the sleep cycles that precede REM sleep--this means that music can help one reach the most restful stage of sleep more quickly. Music’s ability to drown out disruptive thoughts and noises while also relaxing the body’s nervous systems is impactful in relieving insomnia in hospice care patients. 

Older person holding hands together
Music can help with various experiences of physical pain. Image courtesy of

Pain Perception

Music therapy for palliative care patients can be a wondrous treatment for the perception of pain. Pain itself is both an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience, but music’s effects on the brain can intervene in the subjective reaction to it. 

Music that expresses happiness for a patient has been shown to reduce one’s experience of pain. It can also disrupt the process involving the brain and nerves that leads to the sensation of pain. By blocking the release of stress hormones with its relaxing effects, music can reduce the severity of any aches. Music can also promote the release of the brain’s natural pain-relieving chemicals to reduce any unpleasant sensation. Music therapy can be the ideal intervention for a palliative care patient in pain. 

Anxiety and Depression

Music therapy can improve the negative mood symptoms that stressed-out hospice care patients often deal with. The emotionally turbulent and painful experience of having a serious health condition can lead to patients developing mood disorders and anxiety. 

Music can improve the symptoms of anxiety and depression that impact one’s mood and other aspects of daily life. Music therapy can induce the release of “happy” chemicals in the brain that can improve one’s depressive symptoms. Music therapy techniques such as playing instruments and listening to favorite songs can calm activity in the body’s autonomic system, which is often aroused when one is stressed or anxious. The combination of improved mood and reduced stress reactions can make daily life more pleasant for hospice care patients. 

Older person's arm being held by another person's arm
Music therapy can help palliative care patients feel more connected to others. Image courtesy of

Facilitate Communication and Connectedness

Music therapy can be a notable treatment option for palliative care patients dealing with cognitive-impairing medical conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. The ability to verbally communicate can be jeopardized by these types of conditions, but the universal language of music can remedy patients’ barriers to communication. 

Music therapy sessions can facilitate communication that’s not barred by verbal inabilities. Music allows patients to use nonverbal cues like facial expressions and bodily movements to express themselves. The universality of music for communication can also increase social connectedness by providing patients with an outlet for expressing themselves to family, medical staff, and others. Music can overall reduce feelings of isolation and increase communication abilities, allowing for patients to feel less alone while dealing with their health issues.
Although the experiences of palliative and hospice care patients can be daunting and stressful, music therapy’s multidimensional effects can provide significant symptom relief. Read more to see if music therapy is the best treatment option for you.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 19, 2021

Cristal Thomas
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