Music as Medicine
"I think music itself is healing. It's an explosion of humanity. It's something we all touched by. No matter what culture we are from, everyone loves music." Billy Joel, musician.
I think most of us would agree with this statement. Just think about your favourite song and about the emotional response it triggers. We have a deep connection to music and the elements of music, the rhythm, tone and melody, are echoed in our daily lives. Not surprisingly, it is this universal bond with music that has led researchers to investigate its therapeutic potential.
There is lots of evidence to support that when feeling stressed, listening to your favourite music makes you feel better. Even infants benefit from listening to music, especially where there is a repetitive pattern, remaining calmer for longer when played music rather than when spoken to. Music may help alleviate stress by lowering the body's cortisol levels, the hormone released in response to stress. This stress relieving effect does depend on what type of music is listened to, with relaxing music found the most likely to lower cortisol levels. Relaxing music, where there is a slow tempo and musical pauses, is associated with a decrease in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. Music's effect on the heart and its potential as a stress reliever have led researchers to believe music may also be effective for treating heart conditions.
Music improves memory. Music appears to unlock parts of the brain and people often retain song words and melodies longer than other memories. A study involving people living with dementia and their caregivers showed that the groups singing and listening to music had better mood, overall well-being and improved memory on cognitive assessments. The Alzheimer's Society started Singing for the Brain, now called Music for the Mind, in 2003. This service, which brings people with dementia and their caregivers together in a friendly and supportive environment, helps to improve emotions, social interactions and confidence, to retain skills and to reduce loneliness. There are 11 groups across Wiltshire, the nearest are in Lockeridge and Mildenhall, Marlborough. www.alzheimerswiltshire.org.uk.
Bob Marley sang: "One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain". The theory is that listening to music triggers the release in the brain of the body's natural painkiller relievers, the opioids. In a trial involving post operative patients, those who listened to music they had chosen reported having less pain and anxiety and required less pain relief than patients who did not listen to music. Listening to calm, relaxing and self-chosen music also reduced pain and increased functional mobility significantly in patients suffering from fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes muscle and joint pain associated with fatigue.
Increasingly, research is indicating that music can help aid recovery from brain injury, such as a stroke, and also to reduce seizure activity in epilepsy. Stroke sufferers who listened to music for around two hours a day had better verbal memory, speech recovery and attention. Analysing brain activity in people with epilepsy showed that they have a different response to music. Listening to music, prevented seizure activity.
Music therapy is already an established psychological clinical intervention and is increasingly being used in the management of vulnerable children, adult mental wellbeing and caring for the growing number of people affected by dementia. If you would like to know more about music therapy, finding a therapist or becoming a therapist then you will find this information at the British Association for Music Therapy, www.bamt.org.
There is certainly evidence that we have much more than just an emotional connection with music. So next time you listen to and share with friends your favourite music, know that you are likely to be experiencing lots of health benefits.
As this is my first article this year, I would like to wish everyone a happy new year from the team at The Old School Surgery and thank you all for your kind cards, words and gifts at Christmas time.
Start listening, be well.
Dr Angela Paddon
From the Archives.
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