Music therapy for supporting informal carers of adults with life-threatening illness pre- and post-bereavement; a mixed-methods systematic review



Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Publication Title

BMC Palliative Care






Bereavement, Carer, End-of-life, Grief, Music therapy, Palliative care


Background: Music therapy interventions with informal carers of individuals with life-threatening illness at pre- and post-bereavement is an increasingly important clinical area. This systematic review is the first to synthesise and critically evaluate the international evidence associated with music therapy with adult informal carers pre- and post-bereavement. Specifically, the objectives were: i) to describe the characteristics and effectiveness of music therapy interventions which aim to improve health-related outcomes for adult informal carers of adults with life-threatening illness (pre- and post-bereavement), and ii) to describe the experience of music therapy for adult informal carers of adults with life-threatening illness (pre- and post-bereavement). Methods: Eligibility: adult informal carers of adults at end of life or bereaved; music therapy interventions for improving health-related outcomes; qualitative; mixed-method; and quantitative studies including comparators of any other intervention; published in English from 1998 onwards. Six databases were searched up to July 2022. A JBI mixed-methods systematic review approach was followed throughout, including quality appraisal, data extraction and a convergent segregated approach to synthesis and integration. Results: A total of 34 studies were included, published between 2003 and 2022. Most were conducted in North America (n = 13), Australia (n = 10), or Europe (n = 8). No studies were conducted in low- and middle-income countries or in the UK. The majority were qualitative (n = 17), followed by quasi-experimental (n = 8), mixed-methods (n = 7) and two RCTs. The majority focused on carers of individuals with dementia (n = 21) or advanced cancer (n = 7). Seventeen studies were purely quantitative or included a quantitative component. During meta-synthesis, findings were aligned to core outcomes for evaluating bereavement interventions in palliative care and previously identified risk factors for complicated grief. Commonly targeted outcomes in quantitative studies included quality of life and mental wellbeing, showing equivocal effectiveness of music therapy with significant and non-significant results. Twenty-two studies either purely qualitative or with a qualitative component underwent meta synthesis and suggested a diverse range of improved pre- and post-bereavement outcomes for informal carers across all core outcomes, and across all risk and protective factors, including psychological, spiritual, emotional, and social outcomes. Conclusions: Qualitative studies provide moderate to strong evidence for improved health-related outcomes for adult informal carers of adults with life-threatening illness pre-bereavement. Limited studies including those bereaved negates conclusions for the bereavement phase. Comparisons and explanations for effectiveness across quantitative and qualitative studies are equivocal, with a high risk of bias and small samples in the limited number of quantitative studies, demonstrating a need for high-quality RCTs. Systematic review pre-registration: PROSPERO [CRD42021244859].

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