Welcome to the fifth post in the Why Music Therapy Works series! If you like this post, be sure to check out the other posts in the series!

Much like aging is a part of life, death is too. At some point for each of us, the time for goodbye will come. For those with terminal illness, hospice services are utilized at the end of life to assist the patient with managing pain and symptoms, addressing the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of dying, providing needed medical care, and assisting the family in caring for the loved one as well as providing the family with bereavement and counseling services.

Music Therapists are finding more jobs in hospice care, and are being recognized by hospices as a treatment provider, not just entertainment. So again, the question arises: Why does music therapy work at end of life?

Music is Spiritual: And not just the hymns! As humans, music has a special place in our hearts. American Pie can be just as spiritual to a patient as The Old Rugged Cross. By listening to and participating in music therapy, patients feel a sense of well being akin to spiritual ‘wholeness’.

Music is Expressive: As a person comes to the close of their life, there are a lot of things to be said. Many want to tell their loved ones what they mean to them, some wish to make amends, and most have a need to come to terms with their own death. Music provides a universal avenue for the patient, as well as the families, to express those feelings which may be more difficult to put into words. An instrumental improvisation with family members, a video of cherish photos put to song, an original song written by the patient or family, all of it can help to say those things that words fail at.

Music Therapy Decreases Anxiety and Pain Perception: The usage of patient preferred music in combination with relaxation techniques, breathing exercises,playing instruments,  and singing has been shown to decrease anxiety in hospice patients. As mentioned in previous posts, music is soothing to us. Our bodies also have a tendency to entrain to music, resulting in decreased heart rates and steadier breathing. Music therapy also provides an opportunity to listening to and making music that increases serotonin levels in the brain, leading to decreased pain perception.

I hope that you enjoyed this post on music therapy and end of life care. Please leave comments below!


Hilliard, R.E. (2005). Music therapy in hospice and palliative care: a review of empirical data. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2(2), 173-178.

Hospice foundation of america. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.hospicefoundation.org/