Music Therapy in Palliative Care

Authors: Marco Warth , Jens Keßler, Thomas K Hillecke, Hubert J Bardenheuer
Published In: Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2015 Nov 13; 112 (46):788-94.


In a randomized controlled trial, 84 hospitalized patients in palliative care were assigned to one of two treatment arms–music therapy and control. The music therapy intervention consisted of two sessions of live music-based relaxation exercises; the patients in the control group listened to a verbal relaxation exercise. The primary endpoints were self-ratings of relaxation, well-being, and acute pain, assessed using visual analog scales. Heart rate variability and health-related quality of life were considered as secondary outcomes. The primary data analysis was performed according to the intention-to-treat principle.


Analyses of covariance revealed that music therapy was more effective than the control treatment at promoting relaxation (F = 13.7; p <0.001) and well-being (F = 6.41; p = 0.01). This effect was supported by a significantly greater increase in high-frequency oscillations of the heart rate (F = 8.13; p = 0.01). Music therapy did not differ from control treatment with respect to pain reduction (F = 0.4; p = 0.53), but it led to a significantly greater reduction in the fatigue score on the quality-of-life scale (F = 4.74; p = 0.03).

Music therapy is an effective treatment with a low dropout rate for the promotion of relaxation and well-being in terminally ill persons undergoing palliative care.

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