Music therapy for hospice patients

Cayman HospiceCare staff, volunteers and board members are looking forward to seeing how music therapy may benefit some of their patients.  

Cayman Music Therapy, run by board-certified music therapists Kim Febres and Julianne Parolisi, will be running a pilot programme at Cayman HospiceCare using money they received in a grant from the Cayman National Cultural Foundation.  

On Wednesday, 23 January, the therapists gave a comprehensive presentation to staff and volunteers, outlining the many ways music therapy can help end-of-life patients, and the varied ways it can be tailored to individuals.  

Although in other settings music therapy can assist with healing and rehabilitation, in a hospice environment it has value in providing patients with a distraction from the pain, a way to engage and even a degree of control over their lives.  

Music therapy can take many forms, Ms Febres and Ms Parolisi said, from listening to music or making compilations that might allow them to remember and reminisce, to playing instruments and singing favourite songs. 

Music therapy is personalised according to each patient’s needs. Ms Febres provided numerous examples of the different ways they had used music in the past to help hospice patients. She recounted the story of a 32-year-old terminally ill woman with a young child. In her case through music therapy she was able to write a lullaby for her child, which became her legacy to her family.  

In another case, an older man suffered from anxiety and shortness of breath. By playing him pieces of music with a very slow tempo, the therapists were able to teach him to sync his breathing with the music and thus soothe himself.  

Another patient was concerned that the singers at his funeral would not be up to standard. The music therapist helped him to audition potential singers, thereby helping to mitigate his loss of independence.  

“We can all think of ways that nearly every one of our patients could benefit from music therapy,” said Dr. Virginia Hobday, medical director of Cayman HospiceCare. “Especially here in Cayman where music is such a big part of life, I think this would be a really amazing addition to our services.  

“There are various ways we can try to control pain for a patient, but there is also a total pain – a spiritual pain – they feel, and the only way to control that is to provide a way for them to get out of themselves and let them find enjoyment.” 

Because this type of therapy is costly, and Cayman HospiceCare does not wish to start therapies with numerous patients and then not be able to see it through to its conclusion, they will use the pilot programme to treat two patients from start to finish.  

In the meantime, Cayman HospiceCare is hoping to raise money and find benefactors, so that it can offer this therapy free of charge to additional patients.