Empath Health Music Therapist Chloe Hill, MT-BC, plays for a patient at HarborChase of Palm Harbor.

By the time Empath Health Music Therapist Chloe Hill entered the room at 10:00 am, the 92-year-old patient’s day was headed downhill. She didn’t get the nap she wanted.

But things were about to change in the cozy room at HarborChase of Palm Harbor. Hill entered with a guitar strapped on her back, greeting the patient enthusiastically and asking how she had been since their last visit. After listening to a lengthy story about the patient’s health history, Hill asked if she might want to hear some music and sing along.

“I never can tell what I’m going to do,” the patient said, warming only slightly to the idea.

Hill knew better. The patient is a former singer and actress. She always wants to sing along, even if some of the lyrics elude her.

So Hill strummed her guitar and began singing “It Had to Be You.” The patient joined in right away, matching Hill’s pitch.

“Hey, I’ve been working on a new song,” Hill said after finishing the first song. “Well, a new song to me. It’s by Frank Sinatra. Would you like to hear it?”

March is Music Therapy Awareness Month, a good time to emphasize the healing power of music therapy as part of the Full Life Care provided at Empath Health.

Hill, MT-BC, is one of eight board-certified music therapists employed by Empath Health to serve in the hospice and Partners in Care programs. During 2022, Empath made 4,885 music therapy visits.

The proven benefits of music therapy for patients include:

  • Reduction of pain and anxiety
  • Enhancement of comfort and well-being
  • Increased social interaction
  • Reminiscence of fond memories
  • Increased mobility

“A lot of end-stage dementia patients can benefit from positive stimulation, which is just someone giving them one-on-one attention and getting their brains to do something other than sit in their own little world,” Hill said.

The 27-year-old Hill joined Empath Health in October 2022. She grew up with music, concentrating on voice work at an arts magnet high school near Boca Raton. Hill found her calling one day when a music therapist visited her chorus class and listed hospice as a possible setting for therapy sessions. Hill’s father passed away under hospice care when she was just 14.

“It was one of those everything-made-sense moments for me,” she said.

Hill majored in music therapy at Florida State University, then took a job at a hospice in Broward County. But she left the profession for a few years to work with her mother operating coffee shops and a vegan restaurant.

Still, Hill missed music and jumped at the chance to join the Empath Health team. She says she feels encouraged and supported at Empath.

“I just realized how I was doing myself a disservice not to allow myself to try again,” Hill said. “It was something I worked so hard for and something that was so important to me.”

“This is my actual dream job. My supervisor, (Vice President of Clinical Support Services) Andrea Garr, has been so supportive and such an amazing advocate for the palliative arts we offer here. My coworkers are interested to know what exactly I’m doing and how it can help our patients. And I feel like I am making a difference for people.”

Hill describes herself as an old soul when it comes to music preference. She listens to easy listening from the 1960s and ‘70s. But when it comes to her therapy sessions, Hill relies on even older standards, songs from the 1940s and ‘50s.

“Music therapy is really only effective if it’s patient-preferred music. Usually it’s what they listened to in their early twenties,” Hill said. “Music is so powerful it can bring up all these different memories and feelings and can take people back to the happiest times of their lives.”

Hill resumed her session with the HarborChase patient by playing Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” which both agreed was a beautiful song. The pair also sang “Blue Skies,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Moon River” before the 30-minute session was over. The patient declined the opportunity to hear more lighthearted fare like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”

When it was over, Hill thanked the patient and said she looked forward to seeing her again in two weeks. Somehow, the room seemed a little brighter.

On Hill’s way out, the patient suggested she ask the facility if she could play for all the residents next time.

To learn more about Empath Health’s integrative medicine services, visit suncoasthospice.org/integrative-medicine/.