Health Benefits of Music
As quality of life issues and patient choice are pushed to the forefront of the national healthcare agenda, music therapy is being increasingly recognized for its unique contribution to patient quality of life. Taking music to patients who would otherwise have no opportunity to hear live classical music improves quality of life by providing emotional and spiritual support as well as an outlet for the expression of feelings. Gerontologists who work with hospitalized and institutionalized patients report that those who are exposed to live music eat and sleep better, require less medication, are less quarrelsome, and are all-around better patients.
In addition to entertainment, research results and clinical experiences attest to the health benefits of music even in patients who are resistive to other treatment approaches. Music can trigger short and long-term memory, decrease agitation, and enhance reality orientation and self-awareness in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and has been found to improve the mobility of stroke patients and people with Parkinson’s disease. Exposure to music has also been found to enhance visual and auditory perception, facilitate cognitive retraining in patients with brain injuries, soothe aggressive or hyperactive patients, and distract patients with cancer and other chronic illnesses from pain, thus facilitating the relaxation needed to boost the immune system and improve general health. Music can also help reduce stress and anxiety for the patient, resulting in physiological changes, including improved respiration, lower blood pressure, improved cardiac output, reduced heart rate and relaxed muscle tension. In short, music has been observed by health care workers to provide tangible health benefits as well as to influence positive behavioral change.
Though the therapeutic benefits of music have been recognized since ancient times, only recently has quantitative research supported observed improvements in patient health and well-being. Research from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of Miami School of Medicine indicates that music affects the release of powerful brain chemicals that regulate mood, reduce aggression and depression, and improve sleep. Blood analyses in a group of male patients with Alzheimer’s disease who participated in music therapy for four weeks indicated that a significant increase in melatonin levels occurred after participation in music therapy sessions and that the increase continued even after the therapy had been discontinued for six weeks. Levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine increased significantly after the music therapy sessions but had returned to pre-therapy levels six weeks after the sessions had been stopped.
With support from clinical research such as this, music therapy has been recognized as a safer and more effective alternative to many psychotropic medications and has even been recognized by the U.S. Congress as a valid method of treatment. In 1991, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on the therapeutic benefits of music for elderly persons. Major provisions from the Music Therapy for Older Americans Act introduced at that meeting were enacted as part of the Older Americans Act of 1992. Music therapy is recognized as a viable treatment modality by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, the Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission, and the National Rehabilitation Caucus. In addition, the Health Care Financing Administration has cited music therapy as a reimbursable service under Medicare’s Partial Hospitalization Benefit.