Music as Therapy
Most of us know music's effects in everyday life. But studies are demonstrating that music also can produce surprising results in medical settings.
"We all intuitively know music makes us feel better," says Suzanne Hanser, Ed.D., a professor of music therapy.
"Music is processed in so many different areas of the brain," she adds. You might hear the sound, decide it's loud, feel it's sad and unconsciously tap your toes to the beat. The song may recall special times ("That reminds me of the night I met my husband") and even images ("I can see him standing across the room").
Because music touches so many areas of the brain, music therapy has found a role in many treatments.
Concetta Tomaino, D.A., is a board certified music therapist. She uses music therapy to treat patients for dementia, head trauma, stroke recovery, advanced Parkinson's disease and even comas.
"We focus on delivering music to enhance our patient's function," says Dr. Tomaino. "It all has to do with the way we process sound. The rhythm and pattern of music synchronizes our internal rhythm and provides a cue for the body to move even when the body cannot provide that cue for itself."
Dr. Tomaino cites a study of 20 multiple sclerosis patients and recovering stroke victims. The researchers selected patients who could raise their arms only five inches above their knees. Researchers put a drum in front of the patients and asked them to beat the drum while music played.
At first, the drum was a comfortable five inches above the knee. Each day researchers raised the drum slightly, and patients continued to beat it. At the end of two months, all the patients were raising their arms above their heads. Dr. Tomaino's conclusion: "The music tapped into those patients' preserved function and cued them to move in a way they could not before."
Another study involved seven mothers' pain during childbirth. Dr. Hanser played music during 10 contractions, then turned the music off for five. In every case, she recorded fewer requests for pain medication and fewer behavioral signs of pain while the music played.
Dr. Tomaino says music therapy has been found to help recover language skills in stroke victims, ease pain for patients after surgery and trigger lost memory in patients with dementia, including Alzheimer's. "How we apply music therapy can help a person restore their rhythm and recover a lost function," she adds.
Music therapy principles can be used in various everyday situations, such as:
Listen to music to improve your mood. In a study conducted by Dr. Hanser, clinically depressed people were encouraged to listen to music every day. Those who did improved their moods. Nine months later, their behavior continued to resemble that of a non-depressed group.
Join the performance. If you're stressed, joining a choir or going to a concert can put music in your life in a relaxed social setting.
Check the attic for old records. Playing pleasurable music from your past can stimulate memory.
If you're caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, find and play the patient's favorite music. The right music can calm an agitated or restless patient, says Dr. Tomaino.
Take a tape player and headset with favorite tunes if you're having a dental or medical procedure you think may be painful. Some music can make your body release endorphins. "Such naturally occurring chemicals in our brain work to diminish the perception of pain," says Dr. Tomaino.