Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thank you for the music

From TODAY, Health
Tuesday September 9, 2008

Some hospices turn to music therapy to soothe patients who are terminally ill

Eveline Gan

PROPPED up against a pillow in bed, Kamaludin Ed is dying of lung cancer.

End-stage cancer has ravaged the 34-year-old physically. His face is thin and taut. Every breath he takes tires him.

At his bedside, a woman strums a guitar.

Singing along to the melody requires tremendous effort on Ed’s part but for a moment, his eyes light up as he goes through the lyrics of a song, titled Papa’s Wish, he has composed for his three young children.

Ed has also written a song to thank his wife of 15 years for the “hardships and sacrifices” she has made, but said that the lyrics are too personal to be sung in front of strangers.

“It’s very tiring for me (to compose the songs) but I just went for it. The songs tell them how much I love them,” he said.

Music and song-writing seem to give Ed, who is in Dover Park Hospice, temporary respite from his terminal illness. The hospice provides palliative care for terminally ill patients. Most of them have been given less than three months to live.

Said music therapist Melanie Kwan: “Music taps into a person’s emotions. A lot of the patients here are not ready to die yet. So, an activity like song-writing can help them find meaning.” Ms Kwan has been conducting music therapy sessions with Ed at the hospice for the past few weeks.

She described music therapy as part of the growing trend in palliative care for dying patients. According to her, “music therapy is defined as the purposeful use of music within a therapeutic relationship to effect positive shifts in physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual states”.

Music therapy, when used as a healing tool for the hearing impaired, dementia patients or cancer survivors, is not new in Singapore. But Dover Park Hospice and Alexandra Hospital offer it as part of its palliative care programme for terminally ill patients.

“Music therapy can access different levels in a person,” explained Ms Kwan, who presented her study on the positive effects of music therapy on terminally-ill patients at the Singapore Palliative Care Conference 2008, which was held on Aug 29 and 30 at RELC International Hotel.

“A terminally-ill person can also have ‘well parts’. Music can be used to connect to these ‘well parts’,” she added.

Of the patients studied, more than half who had undergone music therapy reported “relaxation and support of breathing”.

“You can notice a marked physical improvement in the patients before and after a session.

“For instance, when they listen to tunes made up of open vowels (such as ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’), their facial expressions relax, their shoulders droop and they breathe better,” said Ms Kwan.

“Each session is individualized for patients who choose different ways to connect with music. I tailor the sessions according to the patients’ health status.”

Patients with “low functioning”, who are “uncommunicative” or are unable to sit up due to their illness may be able to do only simple activities such as humming or listening to rhythms and tunes.

Even so, Ms Kwan said such simple musical activities can bring peace to patients.

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