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Music soothes…in hospice

By Terre Mirsch

Music and song has long been used as a form of comfort. At birth, we play or sing lullabies to soothe and comfort newborns. In medicine, music has been recognized as an ally to the healing process. In dementia care, music is used to reach deep memories, facilitate movement, and improve communication. Music is a universal language that often speaks for us when our own words cannot be found. It is integral to our lives and an essential part of many life milestones.

Integrating music into the care of those facing life-limiting illness has become more common in hospice and palliative care programs across the United States. Music can enhance the support and role of hospice team members by addressing physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of the total person and their family. Some programs access music therapists who are educated and board certified in the use music as a therapeutic tool. Music therapists use a variety of methods to support the needs of the seriously ill including song writing, singing, and instruments, as well as guided imagery and other relaxation techniques.

Other hospice programs hire harp thanatologists that use live prescriptive music tailored to the unique situation to bring peace and solace to those near end of life. Stacey Burling shared wonderful stories of how some hospice chaplains use music and song in their work in her Philadelphia Inquirer article, “A hospice ministry in music” . Chaplains may use the power of music to access and renew one’s spirituality through favorite hymns and other familiar tunes. Music may also be used in conjunction with other complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology, energy therapies, and aromatherapy to set a calm and relaxing tone.

Music provides a direct channel into our emotions, providing opportunity to create an environment of energy, joy, and reminiscence, or an environment of peace and quiet contemplation. Both can be of value for caregivers and for loved ones who are facing advanced illness. Consider some of the ways that you can use music as a caregiver:

  • Ask your loved one about music that was enjoyed during happy times. Playing favorite tunes may lead to storytelling and life review.
  • Play music as the backdrop for caregiving tasks such as bathing and other activities of daily living. Music can change the nature of routine tasks, facilitating more meaningful connections.
  • Technology can make favorite songs or calming music more accessible. Engage other family members by asking them to download preferred songs and create play lists for you and your loved one.
  • Use music to enhance your own coping and relieve stress. Some studies have shown that listening to music increases melatonin levels, a hormone associated with mood regulation that reduces anxiety, anger, and depression while improving your ability to sleep.

Music can evoke and create memories while lifting the spirit and soothing the soul. The therapeutic benefits of music, and its restorative power, may provide the comfort that both you and your loved one need.

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