Hospice music: fine tuning the quality of life

Posted by Elizabeth Jepson, Music Therapist

Hospice music: fine tuning the quality of life

In honor of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, we are celebrating the hospice and healthcare workers who hold the hands and hearts of our patients and their families every day. In tribute to the physical, emotional and spiritual work they do, each blog this month will bring you an up close look at how they bring compassionate care to patients and families in extraordinary ways. We hope you will be inspired by these stories which shine the spotlight on these everyday heroes.


As a music therapist for hospice and palliative care patients, I feel incredibly grateful each day that I have the privilege to do this unique work. This November I reflect on National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and realize I can honestly say that I absolutely love my job and the work that we do here at JourneyCare.

In my journey as a music therapist, I experience so many touching moments with our patients. But what makes my work especially worthwhile are the “WOW” or breathtaking moments. And sometimes, when I least expect it, a “nice” visit can become one of my best.

A while ago, I was conducting a routine music assessment with a hospice patient and read her chart and referral notes: she was a 98-year-old woman with dementia and her referral indicated that she was fairly isolated but may enjoy some soft music. As I greeted her, she was unresponsive and slumped in her chair. She glanced up at me but did not speak. I introduced myself and explained who I was and what kind of therapy we would do as I wheeled her down the hall to her room.

Once we arrived, I remarked on the pictures of her family and the décor. The woman may have nodded slightly, but she still was quiet and distant. I hoped this visit would prove to be a pleasent one for her – at least a distraction from her day-to-day time spent in the living room at the facility where she resided.

Since she was unable to share her musical preferences, I chose a few songs to sing and play live that were appropriate to her generation. Soon, she lifted her head and eventually trained her gaze on me. As I continued singing, her face grew brighter and brighter. After a few songs, she began to speak in full sentences.

Once this happened, the patient shared that she sometimes gets bored and feels stuck in one place all day, so she was grateful for our visit. She said the songs brought back great memories. I used this cue to talk once more about the photos in her room and she was now able to share a little about her family. I continued to select songs to encourage our conversation and her memories and, to my delightful surprise, she remained engaged and communicative for our entire session.

We finished with a quick stroll around the building, and I wheeled her back to the common area. But now, she was now sitting up straight in her wheelchair and agreeable to participate in a group activity planned by the facility.

It is experiences like this that remind me that music is such a powerful tool and can bring people to so many wonderful places. This National Hospice and Palliative Care Month – and all year round – I am so honored to be a part of this journey for so many.

At JourneyCare, we elevate care to its most advanced level with Integrative Therapies. Learn more about them.

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