By Lany Sivongsay, N.P.
While it takes an anti-depressant a few days to elevate your mood (but adversely decrease your libido), try inserting a CD of your favorite music and allow your mind, body, and spirit to begin healing within just a few minutes How? Scientific research has led us to believe that music can awaken an awareness of healing power that surpasses our previous comprehension. For a moment, think about how you feel when listening to some of your favorite melodies. Reba McEntire reminds us, there is life out there;Chubby Checker makes us want to twist and shout despite problems with chronic hip or back pain; andbeing soothed by Mozart for ten minutes a day has been suggested to relieve stress while improving intelligence (known as the Mozart Effect).
In addition to the general use of music for entertainment, it has also been used in medicine and nursing throughout history to affect the body, mind, and spirit. Music as a therapy is well documented in ancient mythology and the bible, and has been used in this country since the 18th century. It finally became the pursuit of steady research after the Veterans Administration Hospitals began using it to treat victims of war trauma and the National Association for Music Therapy was established in 1950 as a direct consequence.
Nonetheless, music therapy is far from becoming part of mainstream medicine. It is easier to convince a third party payer to cover pharmacological agents rather than pay for a piano lesson or CD of your favorite tunes. Compared to its pharmacological counterparts and even other non-pharmacological therapies, music for medical management has been poorly studied despite its therapeutic uses in history However, music's role and function in therapy and medicine is worth exploring for patients who undergo painful procedures or suffer from chronic pain and illnesses. Music is an easy-to-administer, relatively inexpensive, non-invasive, and portable source of healing without the side effect profile of pharmacologic agents.
There is research building on the theory that music is empowering, which is affording patients the belief that they can gain personal control over their pain and illnesses, and allow their minds and bodies to leave suffering temporarily behind. Some of the most encouraging research is in the field of "audioanalgesia". The theoretical basis for the efficacy of music in pain relief is based on Melzack’s Gate Control Theory, which highlights pain modulation by cognitive distraction and perceived emotional control. Consistent distraction by way of music may provide new pathways of thinking, instilling a newly preconceived notion that pain and suffering does not have to be chronic, that suffering is fleeting and can be released. Music listening has the potential to interrupt the chronic pain cycle and alter behavior that can result in considerable implications on patients’ lives.
According to a study published in The Journal of Advanced Nursing (2006), listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 percent and depression by up to 25 percent. Follow-up studies further support that music therapy not only reduces pain but works on other factors that contribute to the chronic pain cycle such as increasing power and decreasing depression and disability. Multiple studies have provided guidelines for prescribing music, suggesting ten minutes a day to an hour a week of music listening can have a significant effect, regardless of whether music was selected by the patient or provided by researchers. It was carefully noted that both types of music selection were considered pleasant according to participants.
Listening to music can directly influence your pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and the electrical activity of your muscles. A practical example is the use of music as a therapeutic modality to diffuse anger in the midst of a heated argument. Insert a CD of familiar music, press play, and notice the biochemical and biophysical changes that take place within yourself and the other person.This method works well on significant others, especially angry spouses and parents.Attempt if you are curious.
However, not all music is created equal, nor is music always a therapeutic modality. Studies by Blood et al. (1999) noted more dissonant music activated different areas of the brain that are associated with negative emotions, and cautioned careful music selection. Music that is unpleasant or dissonant may produce negative outcomes for the patient, such as worsening anxiety or depression.
Musical preference also affects personal response. Interestingly, your musical preference may begin before birth. The auditory system of a fetus is fully functional about twenty weeks after conception, and the fetus hears music in the womb. Alexandra Lamont of Keele University in the United Kingdom found that children recognize and prefer music they were exposed to in the womb.Neuroscientists, Robert Zatorre and his colleagues from McGill, believe that as you listen to music, an area of your brain in the upper temporal lobes are performing “melodic calculations”, noting the pitch, rhythms, tempo, and timbre. These findings perpetuate the idea of the Mozart Effect; that listening to music is stimulating for the mind.
The rocker-inspired-neurologist and author of This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin, has been instrumental in publicizing the art and evolution of music therapy as a social science model based on music perception and a neuroscience-guided model based on brain function. Neuro-imaging studies performed at Levitin’s laboratory demonstrated that familiar music activates the hippocampus, a region deep in the center of the brain that is crucial to memory encoding and retrieval.These scientific findings set the premise for using musical beats in the treatment of Alzheimer patients to stimulate the brain’s memory.Levitin’s research also demonstrated that music activates the amygdala, which is linked to memory that has a strong emotional component.
Music exposure can enhance emotional and cognitive functioning in healthy subjects and in various clinical patient groups. A recent publication in 2008 by researchers at the Helsinki Brain Research Centre noted that music listening can enhance cognitive recovery and mood in the early post-stroke stage after middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke. Domains of verbal memory and focused attention improved significantly more in the music group than in the language and control groups. The music group also experienced less depressed and confused moods than the control group. These findings demonstrate for the first time that music listening during the early post-stroke stage can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood.
The growing body of evidence that supports music as an effective modality for medical management is promising because music is a universal art form that exists in every culture around the world and connects all people in a very human experience. It is important to continue building upon research that demonstrates music as an influential and therapeutic component of human health and behavior. Although it is important to note the significant effects of conventional modalities for health and healing, it is worth noting that music also has the potential to induce a myriad of healing properties that no one single pharmacologic agent can have. The research has shown that listening to music has the capacity to activate a network of regions related to attention, semantic processing, memory, motor functions, and emotional processing. Human beings are a complex sum of parts, all of which must work together to promote our health and wellbeing. Chronic pain and illnesses affect more than the physical aspects of patients, and includes emotional suffering. The addition of music as a therapeutic agent acknowledges that music is beyond mere entertainment or pastime, but can be used effectively as a complementary therapy to optimize the management of chronic pain and illnesses.
FOR MORE INFO:
Blood, A.J., Zatorre, R.J., Bemudez, P., Evans, A.C. (1999). "Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions."Nature Neuroscience, 2, 382-7.
Levitin, D.J. (2006). This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession. New York City: Dutton.
Melzack, R. (1993). “Pain: past, present, and future.” Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 47, 615-629.
Siedliecki, SL, & Good, M. (2006). “Effect of music on power, pain, depression and disability.” Journal of advanced nursing, 54, 553-62.
White, J.M. (2001). “Music as intervention: a notable endeavor to improve patient outcomes.” Nursing Clinical of North America. 36(1), 83-92