Music aids with transition to dying

As Growthouse.org points out in a recent article, for most people music as a comfort starts with a lullaby when they are still just babies. Thus, for a very long time, the healing power of music is believed to be real.

Aristotle and Plato wrote about their beliefs in the healing power of music, and during medieval times, a monastic chant for the sick developed. In fact, the Benedictine Order supported their sick or dying members with formal musical rituals.

In 1944, Michigan State University offered the first actual college degree in music therapy.

Creativity in Healthcare points out some benefits to patients who listen to music:

  • Significant decrease in pain.
  • Improvement in mood and anxiety, and decrease in discomforts.
  • Increase spiritual well-being. Many times people with end-of-life conditions request spiritual or religious music.  One study measured spirituality with the 18-item Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS), completed by patients after each music therapy session. Analysis showed a significant increase in SWBS scores on the days music therapy was provided.
  • Enhanced quality of life. Interestingly, the more music therapy sessions patients received, higher quality of life is experienced even as their physical condition declined. The quality-of-life tool used in this study was the Hospice Quality-of-Life Index-Revised (HQOLI), a 29 point questionnaire completed by patients.

Cass Jendzurski, a therapeutic harpist, offers some advice on providing music for the sick or dying:

  • Music at the deathbed should not be constant. Silence is also needed for those who are dying and for those processing the death of their loved one.
  • It helps to know the patient’s musical preferences. When possible, Jendurksi suggests that activity directors complete a music questionnaire with residents. Studies on therapeutic music not surprisingly show the benefits of using music preferred by the patient.
  • Both familiar and unfamiliar music should be used. Unfamiliar music is defined by Jendurski as instrumental, wordless and relaxing, but not recognized as a familiar song. This type of music is proposed as good for pain, restlessness and agitation for those who are dying. Familiar music is also good for those who are dying when we know it is appropriate. Familiar music is believed to help with fear of the unknown and can act as a security blanket.
  • Deathbed music should have the four Ss. Meaning it should be soft in volume, soothing in pitch/range (low, not high), slow, and have spaces in it (arrhythmic, not rhythmic).

The end of life journey is different for each individual. As difficult as it may be, try talking with your loved one, as well as their caregivers, you can ensure that they are as comfortable and happy as possible.

Encompass Senior Solutions currently serving Omaha, Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa provides seniors and their families a complete understanding of the available care options and helps families maneuver through the challenges of the system. All Encompass services are directed by registered nurses or licensed clinical social workers with no long-term contracts. Contact us today for help with your senior care needs.

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