Music in hospice and palliative care - website banner showing antique piano

Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care

The power that music has on the brain is the reason that music therapy in hospice and palliative care is such a dynamic tool. Most of us are moved by music. And most of us enjoy different music for different reasons at different times. We listen to our favorite style of music—whether that be jazz, classical, hard rock, country, or another—for no other reason than to enjoy the music. But background music has a place as well; to create an appealing and relaxing atmosphere in which we hear but don’t quite listen. Hearing music creates new pathways in the brain, whether the music is familiar or not. Someone who doesn’t generally listen to classical music can still benefit from it.

The power of reminiscence is perhaps the most effective use of music in a care environment, particularly one in which people are at the end of their lives or have dementia. The songs that we grew up with, that we enjoyed as teenagers and danced to at the Friday night sock-hop, have a certain magic for us. Spiritual music and church hymns also have a special place for many of us, as we can see in this video:

Naomi Feil demonstrates the magic that is music

Russell E. Hilliard published a review¹ of 11 studies of the effects of music therapy in hospice and palliative care. He concluded that, “variables positively affected by music therapy include pain, physical comfort, fatigue and energy, anxiety and relaxation, time and duration of treatment, mood, spirituality and quality of life.”

Music in hospice and palliative care | Music therapist playing guitar Music can be used in the hospice and palliative care setting in all of these ways to contribute a healing element to your care environment. Using and enjoying music in these ways is not, in the strict sense, music therapy. Music therapy is a discipline that requires training and musical proficiency. Music therapists are certified practitioners. Music therapy involves more than just listening to music. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), maintains that, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

According to the AMTA:

  • Music therapy interventions can be designed to:
  • Promote Wellness
  • Manage Stress
  • Alleviate Pain
  • Express Feelings
  • Enhance Memory
  • Improve Communication
  • Promote Physical Rehabilitation

Music therapy in hospice and palliative care

Whether or not your organization employs the services of a professional music therapist to formalize a program, your patients will benefit whenever music is used in a care setting.

Music therapy for hospice and palliative care is strong medicine.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical treatises, written more than two millennia ago. That classic chronicles the use of music as medicine. In fact, the picture on the left illustrates just how essential music was to the ancient system of health. The Chinese written characters for music and for medicine are strikingly similar, and that is not a coincidence.

Resources for Music Therapy for Hospice & Palliative Care

¹ Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care: a Review of the Empirical Data, Russell E. Hilliard;Evidence Based Complement Alternative Medicine. 2005 Jun; 2(2): 173–178.