Music Therapy: A Beautiful Addition to End of Life Care

Music Therapy: A Beautiful Addition to End of Life Care

Individuals who are approaching the end of their life often feel confused, irrelevant, or out of touch. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other mental maladies commonly rob the elderly of their memories. One way to address this is amazingly through music therapy. It has often proven effective in helping patients recover memories that have been assumed to be lost. When Music Therapy is part of a compassionate palliative care program, the results are encouraging and stunning.

What is Music Therapy

When Music Therapy pioneer Russell Hilliard began working in geriatric and hospice environments in Maryland back in 1993, he was one of the very few skilled professionals who took a holistic approach and attended to the emotional, social, spiritual, and cognitive needs of patients who were undergoing end of life care.

Today, nearly 7,500 music therapy practitioners are currently accredited by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Some 15 percent of certified Music Therapists work in geriatric settings, and around ten percent are employed at hospice facilities around the nation. Several CBMT certified Music Therapists are currently working together with patients and their families as they near the end of life at Calvary Hospital.

Music Therapy is known to soothe pain and suffering in the weeks, hours, and moments leading to the end of one’s life.

The Benefits of Music Therapy

After analyzing the results of 11 independent empirical studies, researchers at the National Institutes of Health concluded that music therapy in hospice and palliative care centers positively affects pain, fatigue, and anxiety – while improving mood, spirituality and the overall quality of life of an individual. This is especially critical as people approach their final weeks, hours, and moments of life.

Musical interventions may include songwriting with the patient and singing songs familiar to the individual. Many inpatient and at-home hospice patients thrive when they are offered a chance to write a song to leave for their loved ones. In fact, clinicians at Calvary Hospital and Calvary Hospice report a remarkable improvement in patients as a result of their interventions. The only time some patients smile, laugh, or otherwise engage with their surroundings is while they are experiencing a heart-opening music therapy session.

Music Therapy at Calvary

When patients are offered Music Therapy as part of end of life care, their ability to communicate with loved ones may improve in a profound way.

Alison Levi-Ramirez, Music Therapist at Calvary’s Bronx Campus, has had much success with her patients in various ways.

“Often when my patients hear me play music that they remember, it brings up their long-lost memories and they start reminiscing about their lives, experiences and the people who are important to them. Other times, music therapy will result in patients singing along, even those who are not usually very verbal.

“Sometimes I help patients write original songs, about or for their loved ones. Other times I may simply record a patient’s favorite music to leave their families as a momento.

“Music therapy can be very effective in alleviating pain and reducing anxiety and agitation. Providing social and emotional support, for patients and their family members, is also an integral part of the therapeutic relationship.”

Music Therapy is valuable for patients and their families
Music, especially songs from their youth, helps many patients reminisce and share memories with friends and family members. Whether residents receive music therapy at our Bronx and Brooklyn campuses, or at in-home hospice, stress in family members may be significantly reduced. Seeing a loved one smiling, laughing, and singing along with a music therapist can ease what might otherwise be a sorrowful time.

Therapeutic recreation and music therapy programs such as those offered at Calvary are specially designed to give individuals a sense of accomplishment and purpose as they face the end of life. Drawing classes, game times, horticulture courses, and ceramics lessons can provide a new focus for those patients who might not otherwise feel engaged and relevant.

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