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Singing the Praises of Music Therapy for Hospice Patients
By Evalisa McClure, RN, VITAS General Manager


Music is so much more than notes on a scale, lyrics and a musical instrument. For our hospice patients and their families in the Pittsburgh area, music is a powerful and meaningful complementary therapy that supports quality of life at the end of life.

Just ask Valerie Uschock, a licensed and certified music therapist whose musical talents have delighted and helped VITAS® Healthcare hospice patients since 2010. Valerie provides music therapy to adult and pediatric hospice patients as part of an interdisciplinary team here in Western Pennsylvania.

Hospice care focuses on pain relief, symptom management, comfort care and quality of life. The vast majority of hospice care is provided in the home, wherever a patient calls home, supported, when medically appropriate, continuous care at home, inpatient hospice care and respite care to afford a break to a caregiver.

Because hearing is one of the body’s last active senses, music’s impact on hospice patients can be profound. That’s true, according to medical studies and Valerie’s own experiences. Music can deliver a sense of calm or relaxation, trigger pleasant memories, ease pain, facilitate communication, lessen anxiety, and soothe the feelings of depression and loss that can arise at the end of life.

Music therapy can be particularly effective for non-responsive patients, such as those with progressive Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, or those whose diagnosis inhibits their ability to speak or communicate.

“When I’m singing or playing music for a hospice patient, I can always tell when someone’s right there with me, even if it’s just for a few seconds,” says Valerie. “I might sense visible relaxation, a moment of focused attention, or a patient who opens her eyes for the first time in months. It’s a small but very profound acknowledgement of the value of music.”

At VITAS, music therapy plans of care are individualized for each patient. Some are encouraged to create, sing, perform and move to their preferred music genre. Some learn to play a musical instrument for the first time, while others can simply listen to a music therapist perform or sing.

At VITAS, we combine music therapy with other supportive complementary therapies to bring comfort, compassionate care and quality of life to our Pittsburgh-area patients and their families. They can also take advantage of massage therapy, Paw Pals® pet visits, guided imagery/relaxation techniques and other solutions.

For more information about music therapy, contact the VITAS program by calling 412.799.2101 or visit VITAS.com. Let’s make beautiful music together!

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