Music-Thanology in End of Life Care

Posted on

Oct 27, 2015

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Music-Thanatology is a musical/clinical practice that unites music and medicine in end of life care. The music-thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to lovingly serve the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of the dying and their loved ones with prescriptive music.

Prescriptive music is live music that responds to physiological changes observed in the patient moment by moment. For example, by observing vital signs such as heart rate, the music-thanatologist provides a musical prescription that is tailored to each specific situation. The warmth of this living music can bring solace, dignity and grace to those nearing the ultimate journey at the end of life.

This music can help to ease the physical symptoms such as pain, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness and labored breathing. It offers an atmosphere of serenity and comfort that can be profoundly soothing for those present. Difficult emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and grief can be relieved as listeners enter into a musical presence of beauty, intimacy and compassion.

Music-Thanatology is not intended to entertain or distract the patient. Instead this music allows the patient to enter into the unbinding process of letting go in his or her very own personal way.

In general, the music is quiet, restful and meditative. This music, referred to in Music-Thanatology as prescriptive music, is in fact music which is prescriptively delivered and is more specific to individual patient needs based on observations of the patients vital signs and overall affect. While there is a place for commonly known music or old favorites during many phases of life, music-thanatologists will consciously steer away from familiar music toward music that is unassociated with particular memories, thoughts or feelings. This approach encourages the listener to simply receive on a deep level.

Whether conscious or unconscious, the music is patient directed since we connect at the level of breath, pulse, pain, effort and tension. In addition to this medical delivery of music, the music seeks to be an expression of beauty and love; and as such, it transcends diverse affiliations of faith and culture.

Since antiquity, music and medicine have a long tradition as allies in healing. Music-Thanatology is a contemporary field rooted in that same tradition. Many physicians, nurses and caregivers welcome music vigils as an integral form of care for relieving suffering and bringing comfort for their patients and families.

Editors Note:Christine Jones, CM-Th, M.I.S., B.A., is a certified Music-Thanatologist living and working in the state of Utah and may be reached by email at

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