An article for Your Health Newsletter / USA
Volume 1, December / 2010

Melody of Life: The Therapeutic Role of Music

Modern medicine is broadening its boundaries by exploring music as a healing method.

The latest medical specialty is the practice of improving health with music therapy. Recent studies have shown that music therapy has the ability to ease a variety of troublesome symptoms related to serious and painful diseases. Capable of soothing both mind and body, music therapy is a natural choice.

Depression  and Pain Lessened by Music

At one time or another many of us have experienced a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, or an overflow of negative thoughts. If these feelings continue for more than two weeks you may have depression. Some depressed individuals experience all these unpleasant symptoms, while others experience only one.  Regardless, depression can be a debilitating illness.  Likewise, chronic pain can be incapacitating. If pain lasts longer than three months it is referred to as chronic pain.  It can lead to depression and generally lowers one’s quality of life. According to a study published in the UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing, music therapy may offer help for those of us suffering from chronic pain or depression. The study found listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 percent and depression by up to 25 percent. 

The study evaluated 40 chronic pain patients' response to music therapy.  The participants suffered from a range of painful conditions including osteoarthritis, spinal disc disease and rheumatoid arthritis.  The study found that those who listened to relaxing music for 1 hour a day experienced a 21% reduction in pain, a 25% reduction in depression, and an 18% perceived reduction in disability after just 1 week.

Rhythm of Music in Stroke and Heart Recovery

According to a recent study by Finnish researchers, music can be a therapeutic tool for stroke rehabilitation.  60 stroke patients participated in the study.  One group listened to music of their choosing every day for approximately two hours, one group listed to books on tape, and the final group was not instructed to do anything new.  After three months, the verbal memory improved 60% in those who listened to music everyday, 18% in those who listed to books on tape, and 29% in those who did nothing new.  Focused attention improved 17% in music listeners, while no improvement was observed in the other two groups.  Additionally, those who listened to music were less depressed and less confused than those who did not listen to music.  

This is the first study of its kind; therefore more research is needed before doctors recommend music to all stroke patients.  However, this information is very useful for those of us who have suffered a stroke in the past or who would like to sharpen our cognitive ability.  Listening to music offers the possibility of aiding brain function.  

Several recent studies researchers found that music with faster tempos results in increased breath, blood pressure and heart rate. In contrast, in the moments when the music paused, these body functions decreased.  The research was expanded by an observation on how the change of volume can influence our body. A gradual volume increase in music, called crescendo, led to an increase in the narrowing of blood vessels under the skin, heart rate, respiration amplitude and blood pressure.  However, during a silent pause, these functions of the body decreased. The evidence was observed while patients’ cardiovascular and respiratory systems were recorded and analyzed.  While more studies are needed before music is used as a treatment for those with heart conditions, we can conclude that music powerfully influences the body.  

Enjoy music daily, knowing that it is beneficial to our mind and body as well.  In the future scientists may even examine the environment where patients are treated, including the attitude and motivation of the staff. The results may give a totally new dimension for patients around the world.     

Cancer Patients Tune in to Music    

Many cancer patients require bone marrow transplants. Although the procedure causes significant pain and nausea it is often life-saving. Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found those who undergo music therapy after bone marrow transplantation experienced less nausea and pain. As an added benefit their newly transplanted bone marrow began to make healthy blood cells sooner.   

The study included 42 patients treated for various types of cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and solid tumors.  After the bone marrow transplants, 19 of the patients received standard follow-up treatment and 23 of them were provided with music therapy.  The music therapy patients met twice a week for music-assisted relaxation, and were encouraged to visualize a peaceful and joyful setting during each session.  The results were astonishing: the patients who received music therapy rated both their pain and nausea as “severe” before each session and “moderate” after. The average time until patients began producing their own white blood cells was 13.5 days in the group receiving music therapy, compared to 15.5 days in the control group. By shortening this time the patients are much less susceptible to life threatening infections. 

The experiment found music can be incredibly beneficial to cancer patients. Suffering can be great during cancer treatment and medications do not always control these symptoms. But now we have another option, music.  Give music a try, as it surely can not hurt. 

Weather you suffer from chronic pain or depression, painful cancer treatments, heart problems, or a history of strokes, music therapy can play a beneficial role in recovery.  Ask your doctor about music therapy programs offered in your area.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart vs. Gaining Weight

Did you know that healthy babies are plump babies? In a recent study researchers from Tel Aviv Medical Center found that preterm babies that listen to 30 minutes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music daily gained weight faster and therefore become stronger than those who don’t. The finding is important because weight gain puts preemies on the fast tract home. Dr. Dror Mandel and Dr. Ronit Lubetzky state that babies listening to the 18th-century composer from Vienna, Austria, use less energy and can therefore devote more calories to growth.