Healing power of music in hospice
By Terri Durkin, SLP
Have you ever listened to a piece of music and smiled? Cried? Have you ever heard music that allows your brain to wander back in time to a particular place? Do you remember how you learned your ABCs? Remember the music at your wedding? Or the hymns that were song at a funeral? How about the snippets of a song that get stuck in your head and replay over and over? Music interfaces with many facets of our lives. Music makes our lives more fascinating and scintillating. Without it, life would be dull.
Early on, we are primed to respond to and process music. Infants are able to detect differences in rhythmic patterns. Mothers use lullabies and rhythmic rocking to calm their babies. Music precedes language. Children learn through music, art and play. They love to dance and sing at an early age. Educational shows such as “Sesame Street” have been tapping into the power of music to help children remember things for years. Advertisers exploit music in commercials to make you excited about products. Remember Super Bowl commercials?
Music triggers our limbic system, the pleasure center of the brain. Music, whether making or listening to it, hits certain parts of the brain that can be stimulated. Did you know that monkeys can’t tap their feet to songs or recognize beats? It appears that humans are the only primates who move to the beat of music.
Music therapy is being used with increasing frequency in the treatment of those with terminal illness. Research has demonstrated that music increases the quality of life in patients even as their physical health declined. Pain, physical comfort, fatigue and energy, anxiety and relaxation, time and duration of treatment, mood, spirituality and quality of life can all be positively affected by music. Music with a beat seems to help people with motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease walk better than in the absence of music. It allows them to synchronize their movements to a beat.
Melody and rhythm is also effective with the terminally ill.
The ability to hear and the center for music in the brain remain active throughout all stages. Often, caregivers struggle to relate to the terminally ill:
“When I bring my kids to visit Mom, what do I do?”
Music just might be the answer:
- Take along music that your mother enjoyed in past years.
- Sing or hum as you walk into your mother’s room can ease your entry.
- Sing her favorite song, or play music she likes. It will allow her to escape back to another time or even to see forms building in mental space.
- Give her headphones and set her up to listen to a favorite mix on your phone or radio.
Sometimes, our loved ones respond to music when they respond to nothing else. Music may represent an illusion that allows them to unconsciously ease discomfort and physical pain. Music taps into our emotional system and our memories.
Music is a powerful tool that can have a profound impact on our brains and our bodies. It’s fun, relaxing and motivating. Bob Marley once stated “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Music is a language that everyone speaks and understands. We are all born rhythmical people – some more so than others. Music is not only good for your loved ones but also for you.