Use of Music for Healing in the Clinical Setting

For thousands of years, music has been used for healing, both informally and in medical contexts.  Mothers sing their colicky babies to sleep, we attend concerts and other musical events for pure enjoyment, and stressed people everywhere turn to their favorite songs for relaxation while driving, working, or sitting at their computers. In medical and spiritual contexts, rhythm and music have been the essential healing tools of the shaman, the "medicine man," or the "crone" or healing woman for centuries. Music has been connected with the divine since earliest history, and its influence upon the body and the spirit was acknowledged with reverence.

Early experiments with music therapy in the 1940's and 50's yielded unexpected, almost accidental, good results with injured soldiers after World Wars I and II.  This was especially true for patients who suffered from mental and emotional conditions, nerve damage, and severe pain.  Since then, numerous research studies in respected medical centers and hospitals are contributing to a more solid and organized body of data showing specific results of the applications of music to physical and mental conditions.  As the unity of body, mind, and spirit is increasingly emphasized in all fields of treatment, we see a concomitant finding that music is able to affect both hemispheres of the brain, not merely the right brain as had been theorized in the 1980's, and to create effects in all organ systems of the body simultaneously.

Effects of therapeutic music in hospital settings and especially with elder patients are almost entirely positive. Some effects can be startling, such as the ability of persons with dementia and memory loss to begin singing the words to old, familiar tunes such as "Amazing Grace," though the person has been unable to speak any other words for many months. Generally, the effects of harp music upon dementia patients has been shown to be extremely positive at Franciscan Skemp Medical Center, particularly leading to stimulation of desirable or pleasant memories, longer periods of attending to task, less agitation and longer periods of calm sitting vs. wandering, and increased orientation and appropriate interactive verbalizing by the patient with the harpist. In addition, some patients whose affects were bound or masked experienced breakthrough tears and release of emotion which opened them to further therapeutic interventions.

Some of the most common results of studies in the last 30 years show that music, when appropriately applied, has the ability to:

·    Regulate blood pressure, heart rate, and respirations; Soothe anxiety, calm agitation and induce restful sleep;
·    Increase appetite and weight gain in babies, elders, and patients with Alzheimer's;
·    Retrieve pleasant memories, decrease wandering, and subdue agitation, and improve mood for persons with dementia, esp. Alzheimer's type;
·    Lower the level of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the blood; Raise the level of immune antibodies, such as IgA, in the blood; Bring patients out of coma states;
·    Put patients into pre-anesthesia sleep states prior to surgery (which, at least one Texas hospital study has shown using live harp music, will require the use of up to 50% less anaethestic intra-operatively and as much as 60% less pain medication 24 hours post-operatively).

A randomized, controlled crossover clinical trial begins this month at Franciscan Skemp Medical Center, LaCrosse, WI, to assess the effect of therapeutic vibrations from harp music versus routine care on quality of life for patients in the hospital setting there.  There will be a component study assessing these effects upon dementia patients, particularly, and upon dying patients. For more information, contact the Therapeutic Harpist at Franciscan Skemp, Dr. Diane Schneider, by email.

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