Music and Medicine
Music is heard in many places we go. We hear it while watching television at home. We often turn in on in the car. We hear it while shopping, riding elevators, sitting in waiting rooms, and in many areas as we go about daily life. It has the ability to incite great passion, make people angry, or break a heart and bring one to tears. William Congreve, a playwright and poet, wrote the Mourning Bride. In Act I, Scene I he said, “Music has charms to soothe a savage beast.” If one believes that to be true, it is easy to conclude that music is intentionally used to control mood in various venues in our life.
For purposes of this paper, we will explore how music is used in the healthcare setting. We will, based on research, determine if music has an effect on patients and the healing process.
The writings of Plato and Aristotle were some of the early indicators that suggested music could improve health. For those of us who believe the Bible, we know that theory was in practice long before these writers. The Bible says in I Samuel 16:23, “Whenever the Spirit of God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul, he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” From the beginning, music has been used to soothe the soul.
Modern music therapy formally began in the twentieth century after World War II. Musicians would travel to hospitals across the United States to visit veterans who were suffering from “shell shock.” It only makes sense that the healthcare field would catch up and deliberately incorporate music into the healing process.
Medicine relies on evidence-based practice. This means that there should be significant research to support putting that practice into place. There have been multiple studies to support using music therapy as part of a holistic approach to healing. Music therapy is defined as, “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Currently, there are college curriculums dedicated to training music therapists, and the American Association of Music Therapists is in existence. Therapists are trained to assess and identify patient’s needs based on physical, social, and emotional factors, as well as, their cognitive abilities. While one knows that music is used by many people, it is documented that patients have improved outcomes when a trained, professional music therapist is in control of this portion. This is based on their ability to determine what is in the patient’s best interest due to their assessment findings.
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There is no beginning or ending age where music is a benefit. Expectant mothers often play music to their unborn babies. It is said to release endorphins in the mother’s bloodstream causing her to have happy feelings. These feelings are transferred to the baby. Music is also often played in a hospice setting where people are dying. It is thought to foster peaceful feelings with the patient and family during this difficult process.
Obviously, most people have preferences as to what kind of music they like. Some studies suggest, based on MRI findings, that although we may differ in our preferences, our brains receive different kinds of music in much the same way. A couple of particular areas of the brain were looked at under MRI while participates listened to music that they had never had before. Those areas suggested that although the auditory experience may have been pleasing to some and not others, the brain highlighted increased activity in the same regions. So, even listening to something one does not particularly like, does not necessarily mean it will facilitate negative feelings.
Which leads us to health benefits of music. Dr. Daniel Levitin, a psychologist who studies neuroscience of music at McGill University, performed several studies to determine the chemical reaction of listening to music. In one particular study, he was looking to see if patients who were waiting on surgery and listening to music were less anxious than those who were not, and which group required anti-anxiety medications. He found that music listeners were less anxious, required less medication, and had decreased levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Music listeners also had higher levels of immunoglobin A, which is an antibody related to immunity and having higher counts of cells that fight bacteria.
The American Cancer Society also utilizes music therapy in treating oncology patients. They have additionally done research on its benefit. They found that, along with traditional treatment, music could help relieve pain, as well as, reduce nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy drugs. It also reduced depression, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. All of this seems incredibly important when one is in a fight for his life against cancer.
One of the most promising areas of music therapy is seen in children. According to the American Psychological Association, from pre-term babies to older children, the studies have been promising as to the effects of music on healing. Babies in an intensive care unit are surrounded by intense and intimidating equipment. It can assault their senses twenty four hours at a time. Playing music to drown out the constant noise of that equipment has been shown to improve their sleep and eating patterns, and it can decrease the stress level of the parents there with the children. As with adults, children fight various illnesses. However, adults, most often, cope with difficult procedures better than children. The sheer idea of having a procedure will overwhelm a child more violently. They often react even before the procedure is started. One particular music therapist, at Boston Hospital, began working with a child who had to go for an x-ray and was extremely anxious. He followed the child throughout the process, constantly engaging her with instruments and music, and only stopped after the procedure was over. She never realized her x-ray was done, because she was so engaged in the activities.
Autistic people have a difficult time engaging others, expressing their feelings, and some have problems with language development. Studies have shown music can cause improvements in these areas. Autistic children often are found to have incredible abilities related to music, and it helps reinforce positive behaviors.
Our brain often associates memories with music. That is an important fact in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia patients with music therapy. It has been shown to improve thought processes, memory and emotions.
Another promising area of treating with music is in Parkinson’s patients. It is not necessarily the sound of the music, but the vibrations from the music. The American Psychological Association has seen improvement of symptoms in these patients. It seems low frequency vibrations improve gait, reduce tremors, and make them less rigid.
Hospitals and doctor’s offices play music in hallways, waiting rooms, and in most procedure rooms. It has a calming effect on patients, visitors, and staff alike. It reduces stress and anxiety, and makes an unpleasant situation, bearable.
And the list goes on and on. While there will always be some who do not see the benefit, there is countless research supporting the use of music to improve healing. There continues to be research done on this subject daily. While conventional medicine makes leaps and bounds in countless areas, we should not discount holistic treatments. What was good enough for Saul in the Old Testament, is still good enough today.
Berkeley Wellness. “Music as Medicine.” Berkeley University of California. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.
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Landau, Elizabeth. “When Patients have Music Emergencies.” CNN. Web. 23 August 2013.
Novofney, Amy. “Music as medicine.” American Psychological Association. Web. Nov. 2013.
n.p. “I Samuel 16:23.” Bible Hub. Web. n.d.
n.p. “4 Ways to Use Music as Medicine.” Aging Care. Web. 21 March 2013.
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n.p. “Music Therapy.” American Cancer Society. Web. n.d.
n.p. “William Congreve.” Answers. Web. n.d.
Ridenour, Annette and Sadler, Blair. “Improving Healing Through Art and Music.” Healthcare Design. Web. 31 October 2007.
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