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Music Therapy In Hospice

Music Therapy in Hospice

The power of music is very real. It can change our mood, how we act, and even the way we think. And nowhere is this truer than in hospice. A recent study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine suggests that music has the power to heal. According to study authors, music therapy can improve symptoms, depression, anxiety, pain, and more.1

What is Music Therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as an evidence-based use of music, involving patient goals achieved through a therapeutic relationship with a board-certified music therapist.2 Music therapy can help patients address physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs. The therapy session may include playing instruments, listening to music, choosing songs, singing, and more.

Previous studies have reported improved outcomes with music therapy. However, the effects of patient goals, characteristics, and music therapist interventions haven’t been studied in-depth.

Symptom Management Through Music Therapy

Evidence has demonstrated positive effects of music therapy symptom management for hospice patients. Previous studies have addressed patient needs, with limited discussion involving relationships between interventions utilized to improve symptoms.1 Lisa Gallagher, MA, MT-BC (at the Arts and Medicine Institute of Lyndhurst, OH) and colleagues conducted a study to understand the impact of music therapy sessions. The study criteria included therapy goals and interventions, as well as the effects of gender, age, and type of cancer symptoms in music therapy patients. The study included 1,500 patients who were scored on their symptoms: pain, depression, mood, shortness of breath, and anxiety; before and after the session.

What the Study Revealed

Of the 1,500 study participants, 293 patients met all the study criteria, showing improvement in pain, anxiety, depression, mood, and more. The study found that 96% had positive responses to participating in music therapy. The most noticeable improvements were in vocal and emotional symptoms. Gallagher concluded that all five patient-reported symptoms improved when the music therapist focused on these symptoms as goals.

Another study published in the Journal of Music Therapy evaluated the effects of music therapy on quality of life, length of life in care, and relationship to death occurrence for hospice patients.3 A total of 80 patients who were receiving hospice care at home, and were diagnosed with terminal cancer, were divided into two groups. One group received routine hospice services while the other group received music therapy. Measures of the study scored the patients for one and two visits. While quality of life was scored higher for those patients who received music therapy, their quality of life decreased over time. Compared to the group who only received hospice services, they experienced a lower quality of life.


There is a need for more studies examining music therapy for hospice patients, with a focus on music therapy time and patient-related outcomes, including quality of life and pain.


  1. Gallagher LM, Lagman R, Rybicki L. Outcomes of music therapy interventions on symptom management in palliative medicine patients. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine®. 2018 Feb;35(2):250-7.
  2. American Music Therapy Association. What is music therapy? Last accessed: 2022 Oct. Online:
  3. Hilliard RE. The effects of music therapy on the quality and length of life of people diagnosed with terminal cancer. Journal of Music Therapy. 2003 Jul 1;40(2):113-37.