Music therapy can be an effective method for addressing depressive symptoms among hospice patients. Music can be prescriptively applied for patients in various ways to address physical, emotional and biological markers of stress, anxiety and depression.
In music therapy studies, researchers have noted that the use of music can result in cerebral blood flow changes in brain structures that are associated with reward and motivation. These researchers also noticed in opioid-mediated reward and pain relief. These studies illustrate that music, especially music with highly positive associations, can activate areas of the brain that help a person feel reward and motivation.
Additionally, music can be used to address pain and anxiety, which may impact a patient's perception
of their overall situation and can, in fact, address depressive symptoms. Music is strongly associated with emotion and memory, thus providing many opportunities for patients to engage in emotional expression and reminiscence to improve their overall quality of life. Music can promote relaxation and a sense of well-being.
Many of hospice patients may be participating in fewer pleasurable activities. This could be due to physical limitations preventing them from participating in activities, or it could be more related to a mood disturbance. In either case, music therapy interventions can be applied to help promote feelings of pleasure, autonomy and success through instrument playing, singing, reminiscence or songwriting. Additionally, helping patients find new hobbies and activities to take part in as their functioning declines can be useful to stave off depressive symptoms. Listening to, and learning about music can be a fun new hobby for patients who may be bedridden but still in need of cognitive stimulation.
Patients experiencing feelings of worthlessness or guilt may be engaging in self-criticism or an exaggerated sense of responsibility for a negative event in their life. They may be grieving about their loss of independence or guilt for putting a burden on their family. These feelings are common, and can be addressed through positive feedback, and successful music therapy experiences. If a patient is able, they may benefit from music and movement techniques, but they would also have opportunities for self-expression, and gaining a sense of well-being through instrument playing, songwriting and music-facilitated relaxation techniques.
Finally, if patients are withdrawing from interpersonal interactions with family and friends, they may benefit greatly from music therapy interventions that stimulate social participation. Music is a naturally social medium. Bringing a group of people together to sing and make music can increase cohesion and encourage socialization. Additionally, music can be a great starting point for storytelling and reminiscence. Whether there is family members or other residents of a facility nearby, isolated patients may benefit from being engage in music-making with others.