Music Therapy for Hospice Patients with Dementia: A Validating Approach

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Burningham, Christine
Master of Arts in Music Therapy
Dementia, a progressive disease affecting brain function, creates social, physical, cognitive, and emotional skill loss decreasing one’s ability to manage daily living skills. Various behaviors, such as agitation and aggression, often occur, creating challenges for family members or caretakers. If the person with dementia is cared for outside of the home, such as in a skilled nursing facility, family members are concerned about their loved ones being cared for with dignity. Research indicates that many people with dementia are not receiving adequate and appropriate care. This problem is compounded when the person with dementia is in a hospice setting as increased care is needed to address physical, social, emotional, and spiritual pain. Therefore, a need arises to provide appropriate interventions that will ease symptoms while improving the quality of life. Validation, an act of confirming a feeling or event, has been found to help reduce the more challenging behaviors of those with dementia. Naomi Feil, a social worker, introduced validation as a means to provide dignity in caring for those with dementia. Her descriptions of validation within four stages of dementia were used to create individualized music therapy with validation techniques for therapeutic intervention care according to personal characteristics, interests, and needs of four hospice patients with dementia. The participants received 20 minutes of intervention care for 6 weeks. Participant responses were observed and recorded to answer the question, “What are the experiences of hospice patients with dementia who receive music therapy interventions with validation techniques?” Information gathered was reviewed with a grounded theory approach. Commonalities between the four participants were: the content of the responses related to individual characteristics and life experiences; awareness of the presence of the researcher; a desire to connect to the researcher whether verbal, musical, or nonverbal; the combination of researcher, participant, and music created experiences of sacred space; and an average of two moods per session was noted. Conclusions of this study indicate that music therapy with validation techniques seemed to bring hospice patients with dementia moments of social interaction, peace, comfort, connection to others, sacred space, and times of transpersonal awareness.