Music is deeply connected to the psyche of humans. It relaxes us, inspires us, brings back memories and can rouse our emotions and spirit unlike anything else. However, more studies are showing that music has great potential as a tool to promote healing and alleviate symptoms associated with conditions that include cancer, depression and insomnia, as well as helping with pain management. Recent findings have also shown that music can stimulate the brain. Classical music, specifically pieces from Mozart, has been linked to improving focus and academic performance. A study published by researchers at the Sapienza University in Rome (in the journal Consciousness and Cognition) found that Mozart’s music has a quantifiable effect on “a pattern of brain wave activity” linked to memory, reasoning, and problem solving.
According to information published by the Cancer Research UK, people with cancer use music therapy to help them cope with the side effects of cancer. The cancer foundation refers to a Turkish study carried out in 2013 which examined the use of music therapy and guided visual imagery for 40 people who suffered from symptoms of anxiety, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. The results showed that the patients’ anxiety levels dropped considerably and they also had less frequent and less severe nausea and vomiting. A meta-analysis of 400 studies carried out by American psychologist Daniel J. Levitin and researcher Mona Lisa Chanda found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery. Levitin has also published a book This is Your Brain on Music, which looks at the effect of music on various processes involving brain activity.
“Music therapy can improve medical outcomes and quality of life in a variety of ways. Many of us know how calming and relaxing it can be to listen to a favorite piece of music or a song. In fact, some doctors even listen to music during surgery to improve their focus. Music cannot prevent or treat a disease but it can definitely have an impact on how people cope with pain, insomnia and depression and other significant symptoms experienced in more serious conditions including cancer. In both the West and the East, classical music has also been linked to improving brain function in addition to other mental and physical benefits. Indian ragas or compositions, for instance, have been researched for the effect they have on the mind and body as have the music by Bach, Mozart and other maestros,” said Dr. Arun Kumar Sharma, Specialist Neurologist at Medeor 24×7 Hospital, Dubai.
Dr Sharma said that music was helpful in conditions such as depression. In fact, a study by Stanford University supporting that thought found that senior patients who were diagnosed with depression saw a drastic improvement in self-esteem and their mood when they were visited by a music therapist. “Studies show that music can help the brain release dopamine, the feel good chemical, which promotes the healthy functioning of the central nervous system, which in turn, has an impact on emotion, perception and movement. It can help lift your mood and calm anxiety, which is important for patients who suffer from depression and anxiety. There are also studies that show that music can impact people who have suffered a stroke.”
A Finnish study published in the medical journal Brain stated that stroke patients who listened to music for a couple of hours daily showed improvement in verbal memory and attention span compared to patients who didn’t. They also had a better mood as a result. The study focused on patients who had suffered a stroke of either the left or the right hemisphere middle cerebral artery (MCA).
“These studies are encouraging and are helping doctors use music to complement treatment especially for neurological conditions. We have also seen our patients with autism, attention hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s disease respond well to music therapy. The important thing is to work with a qualified professional who understands how music and the harmony involved can help a person,” said Dr Sharma.