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New Ways to Use Music as Medicine


I have always believed music had special powers that made incredible leaps possible, when nothing else could. I have watched people meet, who seemed to have nothing in common. But then the music started, and as they listened they began to smile and nod and talk. Without the music the connection was missing.

Now many people are discovering just how much music can do on the job, in hospitals and in senior care homes.

Music Helping Children with Cancer

A few years ago, I worked with a couple of hospital resident doctors, who also played in a weekend jazz group. These young residents were treating children with cancer and were extremely frustrated as they tried to help the children, but found very little success. But then one of the residents brought his guitar to the hospital, and a wonderful new therapy blossomed. As he strummed, they responded. Soon his guitar and the treasured music time became a key part of their day, helping to pull them away from the pain. They waited for it, loved it, and moved ahead with their treatments.

Music May Be Best Meds for Seniors Too

The same magic is now turning up for seniors. AgingCare recently focused on this, showing how music therapists in rehab clinics, hospice and elder care facilities were using music to help seniors move beyond pain or reconnect with their surroundings.

I watched this happen for a family who had all but given up on their mother. She lived in her own world, and frequently startled them with strange remarks and negative reactions. But then one Sunday, her husband began playing the piano and asked Elizabeth if she remembered their song. She beamed and sat up straight as she began singing, remembering every verse of their favorite song, from so long ago.

As the family realized the value of this connection, they played more music for her, and helped her remember bits and pieces of her life. They were still dealing with her dementia, but it had become a little bit easier for all of them.

Musical Help for Strokes & Hearts Too

Researchers report singing may help stroke victims to speak sooner. Listening to music a few hours a day accelerates their verbal recovery and helps them move beyond depression and confusion.

Pulsing pitches may  help Parkinson’s patients recover some of their functioning and enjoy life more.
Open heart surgery patients have shown less signs of stress before surgery and during recovery as they listened to their favorite symphonies.

With this much success, musical therapy will certainly continue to thrive. But we all should explore new uses. If someone in your family is moving into a senior world where they seem more detached, you might play some of their favorite music, or take them to a concert in the park to help them enjoy life more and reconnect.


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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Brian Roberts

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