Using the universal language of music to improve patient outcomes

Anyone that has been transported by a piece of music can understand the impact it has on our lives. It is a universal language. From ancient drum rhythms to classical to rock and every genre in between, music connects us, helps create a common experience, provides rhythmic story-telling and enjoyment.

In a hospice setting, music can move beyond those experiences to a therapeutic purpose with the use of music therapy. New Zealand’s first ever Music Therapy Week is happening from 21 – 29 May.

With the help of registered music therapist Claire Molyneux, patients at Hospice West Auckland have enjoyed increased peace, a decrease in pain (and therefore pain medication) and greater connection with their families

One patient, Elizabeth, who had been diagnosed with late stage rectal cancer, also had acute hearing loss and had been suffering from dementia for many years, was admitted to Hospice West Auckland, confused, in pain and scared.
In a quiet hospice setting, away from the bustle of the hospital, Claire was able to work with both Elizabeth and her daughter Jane, using her voice accompanied by guitar and some familiar Scottish ballads to provide much alleviation of symptoms. In addition to better pain management, music therapy aided her relaxation and elevated her mood. Elizabeth’s cognitive ability improved, with increased orientation to time and place, greater engagement and increased capacity to be present in the moment. She enjoyed increased interaction with her daughter, and her daughter was able to use recordings of music similar to those used during the music therapy sessions to spend time with her mother, sharing the enjoyment of singing together and feeling empowered to engage with her.

For another patient, Mark, who had motor neuron disease, music was a lifelong passion, and the ability to work with Claire provided him with focused energy and creativity.
Working alongside Claire, Mark quickly identified he wanted to write his own song and over the course of four sessions worked with Claire to set lyrics he’d written to music. Claire says the process was both creative and cathartic for Mark. “We started the process using lyrics he’d written before becoming ill. I developed a couple of riffs and Mark immediately identified with one of them, which then formed the base of his song. He was able to spontaneously create melodies, singing his lyrics as I played. Our sessions allowed him to explore and process psychological and emotional needs around the end of life, in particularly connecting with his parents and being in the here and now.”

Mark spoke to Claire about feeling that things had happened at the right time for him. Claire sensed he had both a broad sense of this, but also specifically meant having had the voice to sing his lyrics before his disease took his voice.

“The process of writing a song with Claire has been inspirational. I hope many other patients benefit from her skills.”

For more information about Music Therapy Week can be found at the Music Therapy New Zealand website.

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