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Music as medicine
Music as Medicine by Simon Heather
Most of us listen to music for relaxation but few people realise just how powerful soundand music can be for healing. In ancient times, sound and music were used as a healing toolfor both body and mind. Now, studies show that music may be an effective treatment forconditions as varied as heart disease, depression and stroke.
A recent review of 23 scientific studies of the use of music in the treatment of coronary
heart disease showed that those participants that listened to music as part of their treatment
had better health than those who just received standard care (the studies involved 1,500
Listening to music also had beneficial effects on blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates,anxiety and pain. In most studies participants listened to pre-recorded music as well as theirroutine care. (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009).
Other studies have shown the benefits of listening to music for those under-going surgery.
Listening to music reduces anxiety and pain in adults and children alike. (South Medical
Journal, 2005; 98: p 282–8).
In one study, listening to music proved to be just as effective as sedatives in relieving theanxiety of 207 patients before an operation. The researchers found no significantdifferences in anxiety, cortisol level, heart rate and blood pressure between those takingdiazepam and those who listened to music in the run-up to surgery. (Medscape Journal ofMedicine 2008 June 25).
According to a study carried out in Helsinki, Finland, listening to music for a few hours
every day can boost recovery in the early stages following a stroke. The results showed that
the recovery of verbal memory and attention improved significantly more with the group of
patients who listened to music compared with those patients who listened to audio books or
did nothing at all. The music group also felt less depressed and confused than the no-music
group. These differences were still present six months later, suggesting that music may
have long-term effects on brain function and mood (Brain, 2008; 131: p 866–76).
It is thought that music may directly stimulate recovery in damaged areas of the brain.
Another theory is that the positive emotions elicited by music may result in more efficientbrain neuronal signalling.
Listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 per cent and depression by up to 25
per cent, according to a paper in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. It can also make people
feel more in control of their pain and less disabled by their condition.
"The people who took part in the music groups listened to music on a headset for an hour aday and everyone who took part, including the control group, kept a pain diary" explainsnurse researcher Dr Sandra L Siedlecki from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio.
(The effect of music on power, pain, depression and disability - Journal of AdvancedNursing. 2005 Volume 54.5, p 553 to 562.).
Research by Professor Good and Hui-Ling Lai, published in the Journal of Advanced
Nursing in 2005 showed that listening to 45 minutes of soft music before bedtime can
improve sleep by more than a third. (see reference above).
Live Music in Hospitals
The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London have regular live music performances
and have seen impressive results. A scientific study by the hospital has found that patients
who listen to live music need fewer drugs and recover more quickly than those patients
who don't listen to music.
According to Dr Rosalia Staricoff, who carried out the study, there is growing scientificevidence that listening to music can help to heal the body. She said: "The physiologicalbenefits have been measured. Music reduces blood pressure, the heart rate, and hormonesrelated to stress." (BBC News Wednesday, 19 July 2006).
Professor Clive Holmes, from Southampton University, studied the effects of live music on
dementia patients. He says: “Suddenly they came alive – some hadn’t spoken for three
years.” (International Psychogeriatrics - Cambridge University Press 2006)
A recent study looked at the impact of live performances on patients with severe dementia.
Bands played popular classics such as The Blue Danube and Glenn Miller’s ChattanoogaChoo Choo, while researchers scored patients in terms of awareness and alertness. Someresidents, who were so profoundly disabled by their dementia they could hardly hold aconversation, danced and sang along with the music. (The Sun 2nd November 2006).
Patients having chemotherapy experience less pain and discomfort when they listen to
music during their treatment. Patients at the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff are treated to
live music with a professional harpist during their cancer treatments. The soothing effects
of the music have been shown to ease the side effects of chemotherapy. (BBC News
Thursday, 5th January 2006).
In a review of several trials by scientists from Stanford University, music was reported tobe an effective treatment for the chronic, often debilitating, pain experienced by cancerpatients. Listening to music also improved the patients’ quality of life. (Hawaii MedicalJournal 2007; 66: 292–5).
Singing is fun and it actually singing actually makes us healthy and happy according to a
number of recently published studies.
In a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health theauthors questioned members of a university choir. They found that no fewer than 93 percent agreed that singing made their mood more positive; 89 per cent reported feelinghappier; 79 per cent said it helped to reduce stress and 78 per cent felt calmer. At the sametime, though, 74 per cent were more energetic and 76 per cent more awake and alert. 74 percent of choral singers agreed that singing was “good for my soul”. (The Journal of theRoyal Society for the Promotion of Health, Vol. 121, No. 4, 248-256 (2001).
Other studies have shown that choral singing increases immunity, reduces depression,improves cognitive function, lowers stress levels and releases endorphins, the feel-goodhormones. A joint Harvard and Yale study even found that it increased the life expectancyof the population of New Haven, Connecticut, by promoting a healthy heart and a betterstate of mind. (Why take Prozac when you can sing Prokofiev? - The Times January 18,2007).
Professor Graham Welch, an expert in music and medicine at the University of London,says that regular singing reduces stress hormones and gives the cardiovascular system agood workout. (The Times January 18, 2007)
Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that boosts oxygenation in thebloodstream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body. The charity HeartResearch UK is planning a publicity campaign to get us all singing to boost our hearthealth.
Singing in Schools
A former UK Education Secretary, Alan Johnson funded a £10 million campaign to
encourage singing in schools.
Children have become better behaved since teachers began singing to them in school.
Teachers at 70 British primary schools have joined an experimental scheme to improve theperformance of their pupils by singing to the children in lessons. Organisers of the schemesay the project brings a whole new dimension to classroom learning and they are hailing itas a success.
At the Oxford Gardens primary school, West London, music has played a prominent role inthe school's curriculum ever since the school teamed up with The Voices Foundation.
Teachers have found the project so successful that in some classes they only need to sing torestore order.
Children sing their two and three times tables in maths classes, appear happier and even gohome and sing to their families, say the scheme's organisers. The staff at Oxford GardensSchool have seen an improvement in pupils academic success and in their behaviour.
Headteacher, Liz Rayment-Pickard, said: "I do feel foolish but it is just one of those thingsthat is so enjoyable and so much fun. (BBC News January 21, 1998).
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