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Hospice music therapy - Phaneuf

Hospice music therapy

Professional caregivers tout the benefits of hospice music therapy for patients, including the relief and release it can bring to those who are ailing and near death. 

In New Hampshire, musicians  sing or play guitar, flute and other acoustic instruments at patients’ bedsides in an effort to bring them calm and relief. Some therapy musicians also perform in rooms where chemotherapy treatments are given.  

A 2015 controlled trial by Marco Warth et al. in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International looked at the benefit of music therapy for patients in palliative care. The results showed that patients who experienced music therapy were more relaxed than those who participated in  relaxation exercises with no music.

The musicians who take on the cause of performing for the infirmed are often called “angels” by those who are the beneficiaries of their talents. The goals of performing live music include:

  • Removing stress from patients (as well as family members or friends who may be in the room)
  • Easing the patients’ suffering
  • Allowing patients to fall asleep and stay that way, comfortably

Many caregivers know how helpful that last one can be to patients who are in near-constant discomfort. 

There are several Certified Music Practitioners (CMP) in New Hampshire who regularly perform for those in hospice care or in a hospital. These performers undergo  lengthy training and certification from the Music for Healing and Transition Program before working with medical/hospice centers. 

Harp music soothes patients

Pamela Stohrer, a harpist in Hillsborough, NH, said the program involves 80 hours of classroom training and a 45-hour practicum/internship where student musicians work with a certified musician at medical facilities or patients’ homes.

“We’re very proud of our program,” Pamela said. “Every time you play out, you get another chance to show people how music can be healing at the bedside table.”

Pamela learned piano as a child, “by ear,” and ended up teaching music in the public school sector. After retiring, she was inspired to take on the harp. Pamela said  the volunteer coordinator at Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association at (603) 224-4093 will get in touch with therapy musicians for home visits. 

There are four types of patients Pamela typically plays for:

  • Patients with delirium: They are not really based in reality. Often, the music brings them back into this world. They may sing along.
  • Babies that are born addicted to drugs: Often the babies are in mother’s arms or nurse’s arms. She plays music that can mimic a mother’s heartbeat and says that the baby will relax right in your arms when the music starts.
  • General patients: Music helps them relax, to stop thinking why they are there and what will happen in the future. Up to 50% of people fall asleep during the music. 
  • End-of-life patients: Music helps people leave this world; their body relaxes to the music and it can help regulate staggered breathing. The music helps them go out peacefully. 

Pamela added that she is also the only CMP she knows who has also been on the receiving end of music therapy as a patient, when she had surgery on a knee.

“Your mind goes into a Zen mode. You don’t think about why you are in the facility. You lie back and take in the music,” she said. “It is very healing. I really mean it. It makes you feel better.”

Singing for hospice patients

Diane McGary is a CMP who uses her voice in music therapy for patients in local nursing homes, hospitals and in hospice. She often sees patients before they enter hospice care. Sometimes, caregivers are not aware of her services. Diane recalled a time when she arrived to sing while the nurses did their best to subdue a patient. It took nearly 30 minutes of Diane singing and the nurses’ comforting before the patient completely calmed.

“‘I didn’t know we had a therapeutic musician,’” Diane recalled a nurse saying. “‘You were very helpful. How can I get you when I need you?’”

Diane said her singing voice is used to help patients breathe easier or to relieve their pain. Others, who are more cognizant, best find their peace with familiar-sounding tunes.

“The versatility of our work is very precious. We give the client what they need in the moment. I have sung for clients as they’ve taken their last breath, and I’ve sung for some just after they’ve passed. There is something extremely humbling about being present at these times. Serving people who have such intense emotional, physical and spiritual needs is service of the highest order. Anyone who works in this field will tell you that,” Diane said.

The feedback from patients has been resoundly positive, Diane added.

“It puts me in another place. I’m so relaxed. It takes the pain away,” a 78-year-old hospice patient told her. 

“There are tears streaming down my face. Good tears. I will remember you. I don’t have much remembering left, but I will remember you,” a nursing home resident told Diane.

The Music for Healing and Transition Program’s site lists several New England CMPs who are available to provide therapeutic music services. Pamela can be contacted here and you can reach Diane via her website

Preplanning your final arrangements ensures that your family understands your final wishes and alleviates a great deal of stress.

Hospice music therapy - Phaneuf

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