Providing Comfort, Care, and Music Therapy to Hospice Patients

Music Therapists Helping to Improve Patient’s Last Months of Life

Although it is sad to think about, all of us will eventually pass someday. The majority of us will become sick after we have lived a good long life. Many elderly people who are diagnosed with a terminal illness may be put on hospice. Hospice is end of life care which takes place in a person’s home.

Although hospice is described as end of life care, it goes beyond that. Hospice focuses on providing the patient with the best physical, psychosocial, and spiritual wellbeing that is possible. Once the person who is sick passes, hospice reaches out to family members to make sure they are okay. They have the ability to connect family members with social services to help with grief and bereavement.

Hospice care also comes in many forms. But for the sake of this blog, we will be discussing music therapy hospice. We will discuss what it is, its goals, and how it can help.

What is Hospice Music Therapy?

Patients who receive hospice music therapy are not always unresponsive or on their deathbed. Many patients who receive hospice music therapy still have the ability to communicate. The main difference between a music therapy patient and a hospice music therapy patient is that they have a terminal illness. The patient’s illness is progressively getting worse overtime even if they are extremely responsive and alert.

When a patient is put on hospice, their expected lifespan is around six months or less. However, hospice music therapy can begin as soon as the patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness. In fact, using hospice music therapy before regular hospice care may make the patient more comfortable with individuals coming into their home.

Now that you know who receives hospice music therapy, we can look at its definition. Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based use of music intervention by a board-certified music therapist. The only thing different about hospice music therapy is that it takes place in the patient’s home and has different goals.  

woman laying in hospital bed at home with a music therapist at the foot of the bed with a guitar. two family members are nearby.
Having family members around can help the patient feel more comfortable. Sometimes older people are uneasy about healthcare professionals coming to their home. Image courtesy of St. Louis Public Radio.

What are the Goals of Hospice Music Therapy?

For patients who receive hospice music therapy, their main goal is to improve their quality of life. Since the patients who receive this care have a diagnosed terminal illness, it can be a lot to take it. Patients may be scared, worried, confused, or frustrated. But however the patient is feeling, a certified music therapist can help. In addition to this, music therapists help the patient to realize the immense support they have.

Goals for hospice music therapy patients are very different from the goals a child with autism would want to gain from music therapy. For example, an additional goal that hospice patients typically work towards is realizing the immense support they have. On the other hand, a child with autism may have a goal such as increasing verbal skills. In hospice music therapy, they are trying to make the patient the most comfortable they can possibly be.

During a session, the music therapist is constantly assessing the patient. This way, the music therapist can find what their strengths and needs are. This helps them create a treatment plan unique to the patient. The music therapist can also let other hospice care know where their strengths and weaknesses lay to minimize the “poking and prodding” many are afraid of.

Additional goals of hospice music therapy include, emotional support, increased relaxation, and increased alertness. This care is all about making the patient comfortable and helping them acknowledge that they are not alone.

older man and woman sharing a guitar. woman is making chords and the man is strumming.
Sometimes letting a patient try to play an instrument may help the patient feel more engaged. Image courtesy of Wellness on Wheels.

How Hospice Music Therapy Can Benefit the Patient

In a small video by Vitas Healthcare explaining hospice music therapy, the music therapist discusses how many have troubling accepting hospice and how it can be extremely overwhelming. But in the video, she states that she believes with music therapy you can get answers from patients without asking the challenging questions.

Sometimes patients are not aware of their illness, so working with a music therapist can help them become more engaged about what is going on around them. Patients who lack social interaction, experience pain which is difficult to control, have dementia, have trouble communicating, or just need support in general can receive the help they need through hospice music therapy. In some occasions, the music therapist becomes the person a patient is the most comfortable talking to.

Despite the stage of the patient's terminal illness, music therapists can be helpful when intervening. In addition to the social and physical support, sometimes music therapy can help support patients in a spiritual way. For example, sometimes it helps patients be able to look back on their life and remember many of the good times they had.

For patients who are dying and unresponsive, sometimes a music therapist will be asked to come and play music for them. If a patient appears unresponsive, a music therapist may come to help communicate whatever last words the family would like the loved one to know.

woman sitting in a recliner in a hospital with a music therapist nearby. She is holding a guitar.
Sometimes just signing to the patient relaxes them. Image courtesy of Northeast Indiana Public Radio.

Now that you are familiar with what hospice music therapy is and the benefits it is capable of providing, you may be able to recommend it to someone that needs it. Anyone who is suffering from a terminal illness can become a hospice patient.

Many choose this type of care for their loved ones because it is non-invasive. Since everyone can connect with music, it is a therapy many enjoy. Music can begin to serve as the patient’s language when they are in the late stage of their illness.

If you have a loved one who needs end of life care, reach out the Incadence. They will help find you a hospice music therapist. Since life is beautiful, why not make the end of life beautiful too.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Lydia Bernardo
Lydia enjoys playing piano and spending time outside.
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