Music as therapy for hospice patients? Yes! We all know that music connects, comforts, and uplifts, and music therapy at the end of life is proven and powerful.

“In the realm of end-of-life care, the profound impact of music goes far beyond the mere entertainment it often provides,” writes Aging in Place Specialist Steve Toll in The Healing Harmonies: The Profound Benefits of Music in End-of-Life Care. “It transforms into a powerful therapeutic tool that enhances emotional well-being, nurtures connections, and facilitates a graceful passage.”

Music Benefits the Body & Spirit

At Heart to Heart Hospice, our patient-centered care team offers a holistic approach for physical comfort, as well as mental and emotional support. Creative therapies like music therapy are often part of the palliative care plan at the end of life.*

Music is significant in a person’s life, reflecting their values, treasured memories, and unique personality. Familiar melodies remind patients of important moments in time: a shared love song with their spouse, lullabies they sang to their children, religious songs that brought hope, and happy memories from favorite concerts or popular songs from their past.

Psychology Today says research shows, “Music has been found to help decrease anxiety, agitation, and pain. It also helps patients to slow and deepen their breath.” Music soothes, improves a patient’s mood, and transcends barriers, even for patients with dementia or those who are nonverbal. Research notes that hearing is often the final sense that remains intact for patients, so music is a powerful tool.

Music often awakens something deep inside of us. It helps us deal with grief, express sadness or other complicated emotions, find meaning, and connect to happier times. Songs may even draw out the patient’s ability to share joyful memories.

What Does Music Therapy Look Like?

Music therapists are trained to specifically tailor their sessions to each patient. They may play an instrument like the guitar, piano, or violin, as well as sing. Patients and caregivers may sing along with the therapist or be invited to play an instrument. Involving caregivers also helps boost their mood and foster connection.

Additionally, music therapists will ask the patient’s preferences on song choices, even learning new songs that bring comfort and peace. If requested, they may invite a small group (such as a barbershop quartet) to perform for the patient. Music therapists can compile a recorded playlist for the patient or help a caregiver do so. From Elvis to big band favorites to Amazing Grace, music helps reflect each patient’s personality and maintain their dignity during hospice.

If music therapists aren’t available via the hospice provider, the power of music can still aid connection and usher in peace. Caregivers often know what music speaks to the soul of their loved one.   

Playing or singing music softly for a patient who is actively dying can also prove beneficial, according to Psychology Today, noting the creation of the unique Threshold Choir organization. With 200 chapters around the world, Threshold Choirs consist of three or four individuals singing bedside with lyrics that are “short and repetitive, focusing on words of love, caring, release and going home.”

“Music can tap into a person’s life story, resonating with their experiences, hopes, and aspirations, creating a sense of validation and closure,” writes Toll. “Whether through live performances, recorded music, or interactive music-making, the presence of music can transform clinical environments into spaces of emotional resonance and compassion.”

“When words are not enough, there is always music,” concludes Marilyn Mendoza, PhD, in The Power of Music at the End of Life. “We all benefit from having music in our lives; it only follows that music can benefit us as we die.”

*Not every Heart to Heart Hospice location offers music therapy. Contact your local program to inquire about availability. Music therapy is not paid for by the Medicare hospice benefit, but is provided at no cost to patients.