Hospice Care Article
MUSIC THERAPY HELPS HOSPICE PATIENTS HONOR LIFE AND OFFER HOPE
At Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, Board Certified Music Therapists provide care for patients living with advanced illnesses and support for their families.
By: Russell Hilliard, PhD, LCSW, MT-BC
National Director of Supportive Care
Too often, hospice is perceived as care for those who are imminently dying. In truth, hospices can make the biggest differences for people who access services earlier in their illness. Medicare allows patients to utilize hospice care in the last six months of life and is not limited to the last days or weeks of life. During these months of care, hospice professionals work to prevent pain and manage symptoms while striving to enhance quality of life through creative interventions such as music therapy.
Leonard Bernstein said, “Music can name the un-nameable and communicate the unknowable.” In hospice care, patients and families often struggle with how to talk about what is happening and grapple with how to understand the complexities of their situation. Music fosters a sense of communicating and knowing where mere words are limited. For the couple that has been married over 50 years to say “I love you” to one another is very tender. When they hear their wedding song sung live at their bedside, however, they have an opportunity to experience the love they feel for one another and become transformed once again into the young bride and groom they once were.
Take the case of Ms. Williams, an eighty-five year old African-American female living with advanced dementia in a long term care setting with hospice care. Her husband of over forty two years was completely devoted to her and visited her daily around lunch time. As her disease progressed, she became less responsive to him, and he was deeply saddened that his lovely wife no longer recognized him during his daily visits. The music therapist was requested to enhance Ms. Williams’ quality of life and provide support for her husband. During the assessment visit, it was determined that Ms. Williams had a life-long love for jazz and gospel music, something she shared with her husband. In subsequent music therapy sessions, the music therapist sang songs requested by the patient’s husband and encouraged his active participation in the music by inviting him to play the tambourine and various other instruments. With guided assistance, the patient was able to play the tambourine with her husband while the music therapist sang their favorite songs. During the music, Ms. Williams smiled brightly and occasionally sang along while playing the instruments with her husband. In one of the sessions, the music therapist assisted Mr. Williams in writing a blues-style love song recapping major life moments in his marriage. When they sang the song for Ms. Williams, the couple held hands and made tender eye contact during the music. Intimate moments such as these provide opportunities for people to have continued experiences together that express the depth of love their histories have grown.
Music therapy is a powerful tool in end of life care. Through a variety of techniques such as song writing, music-prompted reminiscence, imagery, singing, and instrument playing, hospice patients and their families greatly enhance the quality of their time together. Several research studies support the use of music therapy for pain management, anxiety reduction, and relationship closure in hospice care. This innovative service is a vital component of the Seasons Hospice interdisciplinary care team. At Seasons Hospice, music therapists assist their patients and families focus on life and living while offering hope and honoring life.
For more information, contact Seasons Hospice at 800-370-8592.