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4 Ways to Use Music as Medicine


Human beings are governed by rhythms. From our pulsing heartbeat, to the  cadence of our speech patterns, to when we fall asleep and wake up—countless  rhythms drive our existence.

Perhaps this is why we are so mesmerized by music.

“From lullabies to funeral  songs, music is a part of our lives from the moment we enter the world,  until the moment we leave it,” says Diane Snyder-Cowan, director of the  Elisabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve.

She describes a phenomenon called, “entrainment,” whereby people’s biological  rhythms become synchronized with the music they’re listening to.

Entrainment exerts such a powerful force that simply listening to and  focusing on soothing music can actually help a person enter a more relaxed state  of physical and mental functioning. Once people enter this state, they’re better  able to physically and mentally process things—from medications  to emotions.

A professional music therapist, Snyder-Cowan is part of a specially-trained  group of care providers who use melodies to achieve a particular treatment goal. “Music therapy is all about the intentional use of music to bring about a  particular change; whether that change is therapeutic, emotional or spiritual,” she says.

Melodies may be better than meds

Music therapists work in a variety of different settings, from hospitals to  halfway houses.

In some cases, music may even be more powerful than more traditional medical  interventions, such as prescriptions and physical therapy.

Here are a few studies that demonstrate how Mozart may trump medicine:

Singing helps the stroke-stricken to speak sooner: A study  conducted on a group of Finnish stroke sufferers found that listening to their  favorite tunes while recovering helped them regain their ability to recognize  words and communicate. When compared to stroke sufferers who listened to  audiobooks or nothing at all, those that listened to music for a few hours a day  experienced a much faster recovery of their verbal skills. The music listeners  were also less likely to be depressed and confused, two common post-stroke side  effects.

Pulsing pitches set pace for people with Parkinson’s:  Numerous studies have indicated that music therapy can allow people with  Parkinson’s to regain some of their overall functioning. In certain cases, music  may even prove more effective at helping a Parkinson’s sufferer move better than  traditional physical therapy techniques, according to an Italian study published  in, “Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.” Music therapy  also upped the quality of life and overall feelings of happiness reported by  those dealing with the disease.

Classical compositions have calming cardiovascular effects:  German researchers discovered that people recovering from open-heart surgery had  lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, after listening to classical  music. Relaxing refrains also helped patients calm down pre-surgery. In some  cases, listening to music before an operation was more effective in getting  a person to relax than commonly-prescribed anti-anxiety medications.

Melodic intervention to manage grief

Music therapists also work with hospice care providers to assist a dying  person and his family as they go through the grieving process.

Depending on the unique needs and wishes of the ailing individual and her  family, a music therapist can perform services, such as helping to create a  compilation CD of songs that have special meaning to the dying person to give as  a legacy gift, composing a song about the person’s life, and selecting and  playing particular melodies meant to ease their emotional and physical  pain as they transition out of this life.

Harness the healing power of harmony at home

You don’t have to be formally trained to help an ill loved one reap the  holistic healing benefits of music. Snyder-Cowan offers a few simple  suggestions:

Make your own music: If you or your loved one have a passion  for playing a particular instrument, don’t hesitate to dust off the old  six-string and strum out a few chords. “Live music has its own set of special  rewards,” says Snyder-Cowan.

Travel to another time or place: Music and memory are  intimately intertwined. To help your loved one get in touch with their past, try  playing music that was popular when they were in their 20s and 30s.

Match tempo to temper: No one genre of music is more  therapeutic than another. According to Snyder-Cowan, it’s all about personal  preference. Pick songs that you and your loved one enjoy listening to. Keeping  in mind the principal of entrainment, try to synchronize the songs to the mood  you’re trying to invoke.

Highlight hobbies: For example, a sick person may not be  able to visit the opera like he used to, but that doesn’t mean he has to forgo  his favorite arias. You can help bring the opera to him by purchasing or  downloading some of his favorite performances and playing them.

Elderly Man Revitalized by Music (video)

Elderly Man Revitalized by Music  (video)
By Anne-Marie Botek,  Editor  connects family  caregivers and provides support, resources, expert advice and senior housing  options for people caring for their elderly parents. is a trusted  resource that visitors rely on every day to find inspiration, make informed  decisions, and ease the stress of caregiving.


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Leesa A. Wheeler

Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Artisan, Author

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