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Music Therapy & Palliative Care

Music and Palliative Care

“Although they know they only have a few months left, dying isn’t dead. Making music lets them be creative and creativity is life-giving and life-enhancing.” (Olofsson, 1995)


For those facing death through terminal or life-limiting illnesses, music can offer meaningful experiences and provide emotional support as patients face their final journey. Music therapists use a variety of musical approaches, encompassing music listening, performing, song-writing, improvisation and musical reflection. Care is taken to integrate all aspects of a person’s being, including physical, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions.

Enhancing quality of life through the creativity of music is one of the primary reasons music therapy is used in palliative care and hospice settings. At the heart of the hospice movement is the provision of comfort, and maintaining the quality and integrity of a person’s life. Providing aesthetic and sound environments that reflect this concept is equally important. Music therapy can achieve this by:

• Offering emotional and psychospiritual support

• Facilitating non-verbal means of communication

• Reducing isolation, depression or withdrawal

• Re-living musical and non-musical memories

• Using creativity to help celebrate life

• Help in making sense of suffering and death

• Providing coping strategies for both the patient and their family

• Enabling grieving and mourning

• Enabling pain or symptom management


By offering those with terminal illnesses the opportunity to be creative, music therapists can help the dying transcend their role as patient and become expressive individuals.

Music Therapy in Care Homes

Music Therapy Sessions

Music therapy may take place on a one-to-one basis or in a small group, depending on the needs of the patient. Often family members also join the session to experience or play music alongside their loved one. Music therapists work alongside medical teams, caring staff, and patients and their families.

Pain Management

Studies in music and medicine have shown that music can facilitate pain reduction through its ability to distract and promote relaxation and alteration of mood.

Family After-Care

Music therapists can offer after-care for the bereaved in many ways. Firstly they may sing or play music at the funeral of the person who has passed away. Secondly they can make recordings of favourite music chosen by the person who has died. They may also offer family music therapy sessions to remaining relatives or siblings to enable them to process their grief.

Tips for using music with terminally ill patients

  • Listening to music – Listening to patient-preferred music can aid life reflection. The opportunity to discuss the relevance and importance of memories elicited by music helps patients to clarify life values and relive musical moments (for example a song they would dance to with their partner, or a song sung to them by their mother)Listening to music can also be an uplifting experience, offering a positive alteration to physical, emotional or spiritual states of well-being.
  • Cataloguing patient’s music – Offering to organize and catalogue a patient’s music collection (i.e. CDs, LPs, playlists) can help carers or staff find out what music the patient enjoyed most.
  • Planning funeral music – Discussing and planning music for a funeral may help the patient to feel an element of con