Music as Medicine Sure, Music Makes You Feel Good, but Researchers Are Finding Solid Evidence of Its Power to Heal

By Stevens, Susan | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 30, 2006 | Go to article overview

Music as Medicine Sure, Music Makes You Feel Good, but Researchers Are Finding Solid Evidence of Its Power to Heal


Stevens, Susan, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Susan Stevens Daily Herald Health Writer

This medicine can boost the weight gain of a premature infant and lower your heart rate after a heart attack.

It makes painkillers more effective, activates the memories of Alzheimer's patients and forges communication lines for children with autism and stroke victims.

If you have Parkinson's disease, this can help you learn to walk. If you have mental illness, it can make therapy more successful.

But don't expect to find it in your medicine cabinet. Look instead to Mozart, to Brahms or even Kenny G.

Music therapy has a long history, but recently is gaining new ground in the push for evidence-based medicine. Research is revealing how music stimulates complex cognitive and motor processes in the brain, helping people with speech, memory and mobility.

"Now it has a better body of research about what's helpful, what interventions promote healing," said Ellen Rayfield, a music therapist at the University of Illinois-Chicago Medical Center. "We're not just entertaining patients."

Gaining credibility

Music therapy began after World War I, when community musicians went to veterans' hospitals to play for patients. Doctors noted both physical and emotional responses. By 1944, the first college curriculum in music therapy was established at Michigan State University. Today more than 70 schools offer music therapy degrees, and the industry has a professional association and board- certification process.

Yet, music therapy has struggled to win the same level of credibility afforded speech, physical and occupational therapy. Today there are roughly 4,400 certified music therapists in the U.S., a fraction of those of other disciplines. It also suffers lower rates of reimbursement by insurance.

That is beginning to change. Research in the past decade has shown how a dose of musical medicine can ease pain, reduce anxiety and even protect the heart:

- A study by a nursing researcher at the Cleveland Clinic found people with chronic pain who listened to music for an hour a day reduced their pain levels up to 21 percent and lowered their depression 25 percent. A control group who didn't listen to music reported their pain increased.

- A study by a Michigan State University researcher found that levels of the hormone melatonin in Alzheimer's patients increased significantly after interactive music therapy sessions, in which the patients were invited to sing, drum or play along with their favorite songs. Patients became more active, slept better and cooperated better with nurses.

- Therapists at a hospital near Florida State University discovered that premature infants who listened to recorded lullabies gained weight faster and left the hospital a week earlier than other preemies. A novel musical pacifier taught these babies suckling skills.

- Numerous studies have found music can help lower the heart rate. Researchers at the University of Oxford found slower music will reduce the heart rate and slow breathing; musical pauses are even more effective. Other doctors have found these effects hold true even while patients are unconscious; a heart surgeon in Urbana has found live harp music improves his patients' vital signs during surgery.

- At Colorado State University, stroke victims who listened to 30 minutes of music in their rehabilitation learned to walk faster and more steadily. Similar results have been found with Parkinson's patients.

Much of the new research has come from a branch of music therapy known as neurobiologic music therapy, which aims to connect music's effects to actual processes in the brain.

"We're trying to understand scientific rationales for why music works in therapy," said Michael Thaut, director of the center for biomedical research in music at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

"That's really a different model than the traditional model of music therapy, which deals with a social science context in terms of music as an instrument of well being," Thaut said. …

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