Music can be used as an alternative therapy for patients with cancer, pain, and especially neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, epilepsy, and autism.
Music is a huge part of today’s culture and is not only used for entertainment purposes, but also as a background to sell consumer products on TV, the Internet, and the radio. Additionally—something healthcare professionals might be unaware of—music can be used as an alternative therapy for patients with cancer, pain, and especially neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, epilepsy, and autism. In fact, noted neurologist Oliver Sacks, MD, author of Awakenings, has said, “Whenever I get a book on neurology or psychology, the first thing I look up in the index is music; and if it’s not there, I close the book.”
Benefits of music therapy include:
(Source: American Music Therapy Association)
Because music therapy can help so many patients who are dealing with a neurological disorder, below are a few examples of current and previous research, as well as some additional resources.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Physicians have found that music can enhance the quality of life of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia because it “can stir emotions and memories, enhance enjoyment and self-esteem, and enrich [their] lives.” Research conducted by Ardash Kumar, MD, a music therapy researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida, and his colleagues found that elderly men with AD who received “music therapy for 30 to 40 minutes a day, five days a week, for a month… showed less disruptive behavior, slept better, and became generally more active and cooperative.”
The GRAMMY Foundation Grant Program recently awarded funding to the UCLA Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity to research whether music will help children with autism spectrum disorders understand emotions, as previous research has shown that autistic children respond to music. The main focus of the study is “to examine the brain regions involved in emotion processing” using emotional music, and the researchers hope that engaging this part of the brain “will open the doorway for teaching children with ASD to better recognize emotions in social stimuli, such as facial expressions.”
In April 2001, results from an international research study on music therapy demonstrated that “short bursts of Mozart’s Sonata K448 have been found to decrease epileptic attacks,” leading to further research to determine “whether other music has such a positive effect on the brain.” Professor John Jenkins of the University of London, said, “Listening to Mozart could just hold some hope in the treatment of epilepsy.” Although this study had promising results, you cannot tell all your epileptic patients to go and listen to Mozart’s Sonata K448.
Earlier this year, researchers from Finland studied 60 stroke patients immediately following hospital admission and learned that “music could be a useful addition to therapy.” The three-arm study compared patients who listened only to music on a daily basis, patients who listened to audio books, and patients who did not listen to anything. They found that the music group “showed better recovery of memory and attention skills, and a more positive general frame of mind.”