Music Therapy Providing Care to Hospice Patients

If you stopped into one of Natalie's sessions it would look like; just two friends and a guitar, catching up during a shared love of songs.

DULUTH, Minn.- Music brings many people together especially in hospice care. Music therapists play many roles in soothing and caring for patients.

Experts say the songs can also help patient’s family members. Natalie Hest is a certified music therapist working for Essentia Health at the Solvay Hospice House.

“As a music therapist I say I have the gift of time and the gift of presence,” Hest said.

If you stopped into one of Natalie’s sessions it would look like; just two friends and a guitar, catching up during a shared love of songs.

During sessions Natalie said some patients will share stories of the past, others request songs from their childhood.

“Sometimes they will play instruments along with me, sometimes they will sing along with me, other times they may just close their eyes and listen,” Hest said “But I’m still there facilitating that connection with them.”

The music played during sessions can range from rock to holiday music. Studies show its more effective playing preferred patient music rather than calming sounds.

Natalie explains every patient responds differently but the little cues make her job rewarding.

“For our patients sometimes that spark is a smile, and that person has been experiencing pain all day long,” Hest said. “All the sudden that pain is gone and a smile comes through and I see that as the spark.”

Music therapy can help ease pain for Northlanders suffering with mental health to dementia. Since Natalie has joined the team others working at Solvay Hospice House have noticed a positive difference in patients.

“You’ll hear them start singing a song that they knew when they were kids, but they haven’t been able to utter a word for months,” nurse manager Cynthia Hendrickson said. “It’s just miraculous sometimes how you see people respond to music therapy.”

Just like other care takers Natalie assesses patients. Music therapists must be certified with a music therapy degree, clinical hours, and board certification.

“Sometimes we can give patients all the medications that we need to give them,” Hendrickson said. “But that extra piece of music therapy and calming presence really helps people.”

Experts say the music helps with pain management and anxiety. Songs also can be a common bond between patients and family members. Making Natalie apart of the Solvay Hospice House family was made possible by a grant through the Essentia Health Foundation.

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