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Perceptions of family members of palliative medicine and hospice patients who experienced music therapy



Evidence shows that music therapy aids in symptom management and improves quality of life for palliative medicine and hospice patients. The majority of previous studies have addressed patient needs, while only a few addressed the needs of family members. The primary purpose of this study was to understand family members’ perceptions of music therapy experienced by a relative in palliative medicine or hospice. Patient self-reported scales and music therapist assessment of change were also investigated.


Patients scored their symptoms (pain, anxiety, depression, shortness of breath, and mood) before and after music therapy sessions. One family member present during the session assessed perceived effect on the patient’s pain, anxiety, depression, shortness of breath, stress level, restlessness, comfort level, mood, and quality of life. The effect on family member’s stress level, quality of life, and mood and helpfulness of the music therapy session for the patient and self were studied. Recommendations about future patient participation in music therapy and qualitative comments were also solicited.


Fifty family member/patient dyads participated in the study. Family member perceptions were positive, with 82% of responders indicating improvement for self and patient in stress, mood, and quality of life; 80% rating the session as extremely helpful; and 100% of 49 recommending further music therapy sessions for the patient. Patients reported statistically significant improvement in pain, depression, distress, and mood scores.


Family members of patients in palliative medicine and hospice settings reported an immediate positive impact of music therapy on the patient and on themselves. More research needs to be conducted to better understand the benefits of music therapy for family members.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the Kulas Foundation and the Jack Belcher Music Therapy Fund for financial support.

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Correspondence to Lisa M. Gallagher.

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This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the Cleveland Clinic. All procedures followed were in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration of 1964 and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.



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Gallagher, L.M., Lagman, R., Bates, D. et al. Perceptions of family members of palliative medicine and hospice patients who experienced music therapy. Support Care Cancer 25, 1769–1778 (2017).

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  • Music therapy
  • Palliative medicine
  • Hospice
  • Family