My background is in psychology and neuroscience, which is why I’m actively involved in the Alzheimer’s community. New research is being conducted each and every day, bringing us closer to the answers we’ve been searching for. Interestingly, there’s a new therapy that is helping patients reduce their intake of medication — and Alzheimer’s patients aren’t the only ones who benefit.
What could this magical therapy be? The answer is simple. People are able to heal and improve their quality of life through the power of music. Being made by humans for tens of thousands of years, music has the ability to move us. And in this case, it can heal. If you’re wondering who can benefit from music therapy and how, here’s what you need to know.
What is music therapy?
Before we dive into the associated benefits, think about your personal experiences with music. How has it moved you in the past? Does it currently better your life? Do you believe that it has the ability to restore and maintain positive health?
To put it simply, music therapy is essentially a healing mechanism used by accredited music therapists. By skillfully using music, individuals can promote, restore and maintain all aspects of their health. This includes physical, emotional, psychological, emotional and even spiritual.
By using the emotional and structural qualities of music, patients can benefit from enhanced communication, personal development, learning, self-awareness and interaction. As mentioned, experts are using this within the Alzheimer’s community with incredible results. This is showcased in the moving documentary, “Alive Inside.” View the trailer below — I warn you now, you may need a tissue or two.
Music therapy and the brain
Although this is an area I focus on within my own research, music therapy can be used for a wide range of ailments, including pain, autism, mood disorders and much more. Since this therapy isn’t invasive, it is often highly effective. It can even reduce one’s reliance on pharmaceutical medications.
When we listen to music, incredible things occur within our brain and in turn, other bodily structures. Since these effects are both measurable and identifiable, music can be used for a number of therapeutic applications. In fact, while listening to music, an MRI scan can identify which parts of the brain are active.
What’s even more amazing is that music has the ability to stimulate all areas of the brain. Within one study, researchers developed a new method that allowed them to see how the brain processes different aspects of music. For the first time, the researchers revealed how various networks are activated while listening to music. From emotion to motor function, creativity to memory, we are now learning the complexity of music and how it affects us. So, music is pretty awesome, we all know that. But how can it benefit your health?
Exclusive: The Healing Power Of Music
Benefits of music therapy
As the general public becomes more aware of alternative treatment methods, we continue to see a shift in the number of individuals seeking natural remedies. Although there’s a pill for just about everything, these medications also come with a long list of potential side effects. And in some cases, they can cause more harm than good.
For most of us, music is a key part of our daily lives. From folding laundry to working out, music can help pump you up, increasing overall enjoyment and motivation. Or in other cases, music can promote total relaxation. Think about how moving some songs can be, instantly impacting the way you feel. Now, think of this powerful effect when channeled into a cost-effective, non-invasive therapy.
Here are just some of the ways in which music is helping patients around the globe. It may be able to improve your life too, as well as the lives of your loved ones.
1. Improves symptoms of autism
Autism is another area that I was particularly interested in throughout college — especially the incredible mind of savants. Although these individuals may suffer from severe autism, they exhibit extraordinary skills and abilities. Experts believe that approximately 10 percent of autism patients display this brilliance.
If you’re not aware, autism is a brain disorder that often causes significant developmental issues, especially within social interaction and communication. Individuals will also showcase unusual behaviors that interfere with daily functioning. Luckily, autism patients often show a heightened interest in music. In turn, they are able to improve both nonverbal and verbal communication through this type of therapy.
Parents are now looking for alternatives to medication. As cases of autism increase, so does the demand for music therapy services. Within one study, published in the Journal of Music Therapy, researchers found that when music was used as an intervention for children and teens with autism, social behaviors, attention, focus, communication, anxiety and body awareness all improved.
2. Improves symptoms of depression
Although 15 million American adults suffer from depression in a given year, a large percentage do not seek any sort of treatment. As we now know, mental health influences physical health. And if you’re depressed, you’re liking harming your overall health. Also, there has been a startling increase in antidepressant use, as approximately one in every 10 Americans takes these powerful drugs.
Before you opt for medication, know that there are plenty of natural ways to improve mood long-term. From diet to exercise, meditation to herbal remedies, when you begin working with your body and mind, incredible things begin to happen. For those who are seeking less invasive options, researchers have found that music therapy helps.
Not only has this therapy been shown to improve depressed mood, but it also reduces one’s heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Within a key study, individuals either received standard care for depression, or standard care plus music therapy. Researchers were interested in measures such as anxiety, depression, general functioning, quality of life and ability to identify emotion.
Researchers found that individual music therapy with standard care was more effective than standard care alone. The researchers concluded that music therapy is an effective solution among work-age people with depression, adding valuable enhancements to previously established treatment methods.
3. Enhances fetal development
Expecting moms will often play music for their babies, and for good reason. Research shows that playing music directed at the womb during late pregnancy can lead to a child being more responsive to music after birth. Interestingly, music can also influence positive neonatal behavior.
Researchers have documented a number of potential benefits, including increased weight gain, increased feeding rates, reduced heart rate and deeper sleep. Although plenty of research has focused on music and the womb, researchers have reported positive evidence after birth.
While studying premature infants, researchers were interested in how music affects physiological function, as well as development function. Within this study, researchers observed 272 premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome. The intentional therapeutic use of live sound and lullabies, applied by a certified music therapist, produced a number of positive effects.
Both respiratory and cardiac function improved, as well as feeding behaviors and sucking patterns. Researchers concluded that when parent-preferred lullabies are sung out loud, not only can this improve physiological function, but also enhance bonding. This decreases the stress parents face when caring for a premature infant.
4. Improves pain management
When people take pain medications, these drugs bind to receptors in the brain, lowering the sensation of pain. Unfortunately, rates of addiction are startling. In 2012, it was estimated that 2.1 million Americans were suffering from substance abuse disorders related to opioid pain relievers.
In severe situations, overdose deaths are an unfortunate consequence. And unless alternative options are offered, the negative impact associated with these drugs will continue to impact millions on a daily basis. When taking these drugs, our brains release oxytocin, helping us achieve pain relief.
While studying music therapy, researchers found that during open-heart surgery, music has the ability to naturally increase oxytocin levels, providing natural pain relief. These effects have even been seen among cancer patients as well. Within one related study, researchers concluded that music therapy can offer cancer patients beneficial effects, including improved mood, reduced pain, and reduced anxiety.
Studies have also shown that when listening to music, the brain’s reward center is activated. In turn, this triggers the release of dopamine. Interestingly, researchers have also found that the type of music can have an effect. When listeners found music to be pleasant, they reported less pain in comparison to those who listened to ‘unpleasant’ music.
This is also important when you’re working out, as music has been shown to help individuals exercise longer. As mentioned, music encourages our brain to release opioids. In turn, this makes working out less agonizing. Interestingly, research has also shown that when singing, drumming or dancing, this level of engagement increases your pain threshold, in comparison to just listening.
5. Supports positive heart health
Believe it or not, when you listen to music, your body unconsciously responses. Music can influence heart rate and has even been shown to improve blood pressure levels. This makes sense, as music has the ability to lower feelings of stress and anxiety, which directly lowers blood pressure.
While studying heart patients confined to their beds, for instance, researchers found that just 30 minutes of music produced slower heart rates. It also lowered blood pressure and lead to less distress, in comparison to those who did not listen to music. Researchers have documented this effect time and time again, showcasing the ways in which music promotes healing.
In Japan, rates of dementia are increasing. In order to improve symptoms, researchers were interested in the effects of music therapy. Studying elderly individuals with dementia, researchers found that music therapy enhanced parasympathetic activity while decreasing sympathetic activity. Researchers concluded that when listening to music, these patients can alleviate anxiety, increase comfort and promote relaxation. All of this promotes positive heart health.
There’s a reason we’re drawn to music — our body and mind naturally respond. So, the next time your favorite tune comes on and you find yourself tapping your feet, don’t fight it. Focus on the power of music and how it can improve your health.
— Krista Hillis