Good Medicine: Music Therapy

What soothes you? What makes you laugh? What energizes you? These are the kinds of questions we think about all the time at Lifesprk Hospice. We’re impassioned about finding ways to support the whole person in our care.

In that same spirit, we’ve recently added music therapy to our in-house hospice services. “Music therapy fits right in with our holistic approach,” says Jen Blazek, BSN, RN, and Lifesprk Hospice Administrator. “It allows us to care for people on a different level. A very personal level. Physically, emotionally, spiritually.”

What Is Music Therapy?

If you haven’t experienced music therapy before, you may be surprised by the number of different ways it can help a person. Here’s a quick list of how a board-certified music therapist might use their skills:

  • Manage pain
  • Lift spirits
  • Provide grief support
  • Enhance interactions with family members
  • Bring back joyful memories
  • Lower anxiety
  • Ease agitation
  • Lessen the feeling of isolation

Someone nearing the end of their life—and their family members—may want support in many of these areas. You can start to imagine how a music therapist could play a vital role on a hospice team.

For a Happier Life

At Lifesprk Hospice, we’re all about bringing comfort, joy, and greater meaning to the lives of people in our care. Time and time again, music therapy soothes the body and mind—and stirs the soul.

Lifesprk Music Therapist, Michelle Meadows, MT-BC, tells this story:

“I was visiting a client in memory care. She was disoriented when I got there and wandering out in the halls. I walked with her awhile. Then I went to her room and began playing some of the Swedish songs I’d learned for her. (She was of Swedish heritage.) She came back to her room, clapping her hands! I played some Christmas music, and though she’d been having trouble with word-finding, she sang along and knew every word.”

As she always tries to do, Michelle had learned in advance what type of music might be significant to her client. Sometimes that discovery involves asking family members, or other members of the hospice team. (Lifesprk makes a special effort to learn and keep track of the individual preferences of their clients and families. It’s an important part of making their care meaningful and personal.) 

For the Whole Family

Music enriches life in so many ways. You can listen to it, sing it, play it—and share it.

When words are hard to come by, a piece of music can do the talking for you. It creates a space for you to connect with someone you love.  “Last week I was with a client,” says Michelle. “Her loving husband and his sister climbed into bed with her as I played guitar and sang a Peter, Paul and Mary song that had been important to them. There were lots of tears as the music evoked a full range of emotion.”

Music therapy also relieves stress on family members in a number of ways. A Lifesprk Hospice music therapist:

  • Brings extra joy and comfort to the person they love.
  • Builds personal relationships with their loved one, helping to lessen the feeling of isolation.
  • Becomes another source of information, letting the family know how their loved one is doing.
  • Helps the whole family grieve.

Help with Grieving

Think about a song that holds a special place in your heart. As soon as you hear it, all the emotions of that time in your life come flooding back. What a wonderful way for a person in hospice to relive the meaningful moments they experienced on this Earth.

This is how Sharon, the daughter of a Lifesprk Hospice client, describes her mother’s music therapy:

“So many memories! She plays the music my mom and I love—hymns and gospel music. And I know we’re both remembering fun times like summer camp and bible school. It feels like meditation.”

A life review sparked by music therapy can also become an important part of the grieving process. This parade of memories can:

  • Provide a non-threatening outlet for emotions.
  • Lead to meaningful conversations with family members about their time together.
  • Bring peace to families who feel weighed-down by end-of-life concerns.

Physical Comfort

Just as music changes your mood, it also works on your brain in other ways. A certified musical therapist can help your brain help your body.

For instance, music can reduce pain. There’s a lot of evidence to support that. It can affect neurotransmitters in your brain. It may release natural pain-relieving chemicals, and it can distract you with memories—further reducing your pain level.

“People often have pain or distress at the end of their lives,” says Jen. While we’re adjusting their medications, music can make them a lot more comfortable.”

Besides bringing pain relief, the right music can change your respiration rate, reduce your heart rate, and release tension in your muscles. It seems to lower blood pressure as well.

“It makes my mom so comfortable, it’s like a lullaby”, says Sharon. “She can close her eyes, lie there, and just smile,” added Sharon.

That’s why a music therapist often visits when someone is feeling anxious. For instance, music can be therapeutic for people with dementia who become agitated while getting bathed or dressed.

Of course, lots of tunes are invigorating. If a client has low energy or alertness, a music therapist may play music that matches their level and then raise the tempo slowly. As the person’s energy goes up, so does their ability to interact with loved ones or eat more at dinner.

More Than Music

When musical therapists aren’t singing, they may be talking. And listening.

They look for opportunities to become a trusted friend. For example, a song may offer a smooth lead-in to an intimate conversation.

Michelle shared a client story that got her excited.

“My client asked me to play the Elvis song, I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. She was tapping her toes and moving her head. When the song ended, she started reminiscing about her youth. Her husband was no longer with her, but she remembered how all the other girls had been so jealous when they fell in love.”

It gave Michelle a chance to ask questions that coaxed out other positive memories. “How did you meet?” “What did you love about him?” “What did you like to do together?” Familiar music in the hands of a kind, expert companion creates a safe space for sharing thoughts and feelings.

Lifesprk Hospice Music Therapists

Music therapists on the hospice team fully embrace the Lifesprk approach: Every person and every family is unique. We’re committed to getting to know the people in our care so we can surprise and delight them along their journey. Music therapy is a natural progression in our ongoing efforts to spark lives.

We’re happy to answer any of your questions about music therapy at Lifesprk Hospice. Please feel free to contact us, 24/7.