Music to the ears

The healing power of music has been known for centuries. But for most of that time, music and music therapy have been seen as a soft addition to serious healthcare. In the past two decades, so-called hard science has shown that music can help patients who have difficulty with language, cognition, or motor control. Music therapy should be included in standard rehabilitation care.

Composite portrait of Hippocrates, the father of western medicine who already used music for his patients.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine who already used music for his patients.

The history of music therapy goes back a very long time. The Greek god Apollo was the god of music and of medicine. In 400 BC, Hippocrates played music for his mental patients. Arab hospitals in the 13th century had music rooms for patients. Native American medicine men used chants and dances to heal patients. During the First and the Second World Wars, musicians travelled to hospitals in the UK to cheer up wounded soldiers with music.

A professional music therapist uses music to help improve the physical and mental health of a client. This can be done in an active way by playing an instrument, singing, or moving to music, and in a receptive way by listening to music and discussing music. In general, the music therapy is directed to cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional development, social skills, and quality of life.

Retraining
Brain imaging and electrical recording techniques are being used to see what effects music has on the brain. It turns out that music learning changes the brain. While engaging in music, brain areas are active that are also active in processing language, in auditory perception, in attention, in memory, in executive control, and in motor control. This activation makes the areas grow larger and interact more efficiently.

Music therapy is especially useful when working with autistic children. (© Sangoiri – Fotolia.com)

Music therapy is especially useful when working with autistic children. (© Sangoiri – Fotolia.com)

Music can thus retrain an injured brain. Scientific and clinical research evidence of the positive effects of music therapy has been gathered for a series of disorders. In children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems, music therapy helps to reduce depression and improves self-esteem and communicative skills. It is very useful when working with children with autism. Music is non-verbal and non-threatening and music therapy teaches autistic children socially more acceptable behaviour and to become more attentive.

The effectiveness of rehabilitation for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is increased by music therapy. For instance singing or wind instrument playing leads to improvement in symptoms, psychological well-being, and quality of life. Music may become a weapon in the fight against insomnia. Research has shown certain musical tones can be used to balance brain activity and thus improve sleep. This may also be why music has the capability to prevent epileptic seizures.

Listening to music has a ver positive effect on people undergoing surgery. (© olly – Fotolia.com)

Listening to music has a very positive effect on people undergoing surgery. (© olly – Fotolia.com)

Listening to music before, during, and after a surgical procedure makes patients less anxious, lessens the pain, and lowers the amount of painkillers necessary. This seems due to the fact that music activates brain parts that are involved in the release of the body’s natural opioids.

Mood
Music therapy seems especially effective in neurological disorders. A good example is melodic intonation therapy for aphasia rehabilitation. This uses singing to help people with aphasia produce speech. Singing relies mainly on brain systems in the right hemisphere. It can bypass the injured speech centers in the left hemisphere.

Another great example is rhythmic auditory stimulation therapy. This type of therapy is especially helpful for people with motor disturbances. Rhythmic auditory cues are used to help people synchronise walking. In patients with stroke or Parkinson’s disease instantaneous improvements have been registered.

Of course it is well-known music has a huge influence on mood. It is possible to regulate your mood with the help of music. Listening to music with a lot of basses for instance, may make you feel more powerful and thus raise your self-esteem. Although cheerful music may help you feel more lively, sad music does not necessarily make you feel more depressed.

Making music exerts influence even at the level of our genes. (© Sir_Oliver – Fotolia.com)

Making music exerts influence even at the level of our genes. (© Sir_Oliver – Fotolia.com)

Research has shown that listening to sad, but beautiful music can bring enjoyment and comfort. A signifiant portion of participants in the British/Finnish study though did feel pain listening to sad music. It brought back painful experiences related to personal loss. A fact musical therapists can use to help people cope with these feelings.

New research has come up with more exciting effects of music. This goes all the way down to the biological basis of our existence. Music may enhance the activity of genes involved in motor behaviour and learning and memory. More good news will certainly follow.


Do you remember?

Oh what memories, what memories... Dean Martin, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra singing in 1962.

Oh, what memories, what memories… Dean Martin, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra singing in 1962.

Music plays a big part in almost everybody’s life. It is a powerful activator of memory.

A brain part right behind the forehead, called the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, is a kind of hub that responds to music, memory, and emotion. It is one of the last areas to shrink because of dying brain cells over the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s why music therapy is so effective in dementia. Patients are able to respond to music. It is a stimulus for emotions and thus enhances memory.

Making this form of personalised therapeutic music the gold standard in care organisations and train family caregivers to bring personalised digital music to their loved ones at home is the goal of an organisation called Music & Memory. Apart from training programs, they also have a donation program. If you have a still functioning iPod to spare, you can send it to the organisation and they will make sure it will go to someone with dementia in a nursing home so it can help bring back memories.

www.musicandmemory.org

Image

Musical memories © yarkovoy – Fotolia.com

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