Music therapy as a solution to pandemic isolation

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April 21, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

C/O Geert Pieters (Unsplash)

How music can foster connection in end-of-life care

By: Ryan Ziae, contributor  

The pandemic has added another layer of isolation to residents in hospices and palliative care. For some, heightened COVID-19 restrictions have deepened feelings of loneliness. Hospices are medical settings that deliver palliative care to individuals at the end of their life, combining the medical expertise of a hospital and the coziness of your home.  

A hospice, often misunderstood as a place of death, is instead dedicated to providing the best quality of life before someone passes. COVID-19 restrictions, such as reduced guest visitations, have compromised these goals, leaving residents feeling isolated and their days empty. 

Music therapy can address these gaps. This clinical practice performed by credentialed music therapists uses music as a medium to achieve personalized therapeutic goals.  

Annilee Baron, an accredited music therapist and a McMaster University professor who currently teaches Introduction to Music Therapy Research shared how music therapy can help during this time. 

“One of the ways that music therapy helped with mental health was reducing isolation. I was able to go in and meet with them [while] keeping a distance [and] connect with them through music,” said Baron.  

"One of the ways that music therapy helped with mental health was reducing isolation. I was able to go in and meet with them [while] keeping a distance [and] connect with them through music."

Annilee Baron, an accredited music therapist and a McMaster University professor who currently teaches Introduction to Music Therapy Research

Those who work in palliative care say reduced access to music therapy and heightened restrictions lowered residents' quality of life in long-term care homes.  

Avalon Harris, an accredited music therapist who currently works with a long-term care home initially faced many limitations at the beginning of the pandemic, including being restrained from providing face-to-face music therapy sessions.  

With COVID-19's initial wave of chaos, hospice staff were too overburdened to set up virtual music therapy sessions. With the sudden disappearance of music therapy, hospice residents and their families lost a crucial element of their hospice experience.  

“Music therapy in a hospice is a special time for families to participate together. Especially when people get to the state where they're not responsive anymore, families often struggle with connecting to their loved ones. Music therapy is a way to [connect] without a lot of pressure on the family,” said Harris. 

"Music therapy in a hospice is a special time for families to participate together. Especially when people get to the state where they're not responsive anymore, families often struggle with connecting to their loved ones. Music therapy is a way to [connect] without a lot of pressure on the family."

Avalon Harris, an accredited music therapist who currently works with a long-term care home

The pandemic has changed many aspects of music therapy sessions in a hospice. Group sessions which provided a medium to socialize, were stripped to one-on-one sessions.  

“Pre-pandemic, I would often have ten family members sing to their unresponsive loved ones [at the bedside], but now, it's just me singing to the unresponsive loved one,” explained Harris.  

Many current music sessions focus on addressing the resident's feeling of isolation rather than end-of-life work like saying goodbye or tying up loose ends. The residents' spiritual needs are not being addressed, which is especially important at the end of one's life.  

“A lot of times now, [due to many restrictions], the person is bored because their family can't come,” said Harris.  

Music therapy is often confused with general listening to music or a form of entertainment. Harris wished that more people would understand that music therapy is instead a clinical practice with a basis in science and research. 

“I wish that people understood what music therapy is. A tiring part of our job is explaining [the profession],” said Harris. 

"I wish that people understood what music therapy is. A tiring part of our job is explaining [the profession]."

Avalon Harris, an accredited music therapist who currently works with a long-term care home

To learn more about Harris and her involvement with community-related initiatives, students can visit her website at symmetrymusic.com. 

At McMaster, there are currently two introductory music therapy courses offered: MUSIC 2MT3 and MUSIC 2MU3. Baron recommends students interested in this field consider taking those classes.  

“McMaster is unique in the fact that it offers these undergraduate introductory [courses],” said Baron. 

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