Musical therapy for the dying

konrad-craigA near-death experience in a Libyan hospital when he was five has helped shape the career of palliative care nurse Konrad Craig.

Critically ill with dysentery, Mr Craig witnessed other children dying around him as he fought his own battle for life.

He still has vivid memories of his struggle, hearing doctors talking and a radio playing Glenn Miller in the background. It was Glenn Miller that provided a distraction and critical link to normality in an otherwise alien environment.

The importance of music as a therapy for patients undergoing palliative care is now the focus of a new study by Mr Craig at Flinders University Faculty of Health Sciences.

He is embarking on a postgraduate research project to explore “the soundtrack to a person’s life” and how this might help terminally ill patients review their lives and support palliative care treatment.

The higher degree project involves interviewing terminally ill patients at the Western Adelaide Palliative Care Service at Queen Elizabeth Hospital about the relationship of music to key life events.

“The soundtrack to a person’s life hasn’t really been looked at in terms of a narrative so it’s quite a unique study and a fascinating one,” says Mr Craig.

“If there’s one song that would define their life what would that song be? It’s not always easy to establish, but by identifying the significance of particular music at key moments during their lives there can be a potential role for music during end-of-life care.”

Mr Craig has previously undertaken preliminary studies into the therapeutic value of music at graduate diploma and Masters level, and has conferred with international specialists in the field.

The therapeutic value of music has been progressively researched for several decades and is used by some palliative hospices overseas.

After his childhood experience in Libya and subsequent work in Australia, Mr Craig is keen to see music play a greater role in Australian healthcare.

“In a medical setting we always think of medical treatment first and foremost and tend to neglect anything else that may provide a beneficial source of distraction, strength or spirituality,” he said.

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