Aural Drugs

Medical researchers discover that our ears can help us heal

| July 27, 2006

Music has long been used for religious, recreational, and marketing purposes. Now, the medical industry is investigating music's powers over the mind and body as hospitals experiment with it in therapy programs. Cary Stemle of The Louisville Eccentric Observer writes of New York's Sloan-Kettering Hospital, where patients often are serenaded by visiting Juilliard students and have access to a listening library. When Robert Lerman, a pathologist from Kentucky, received cancer treatments at Sloan-Kettering his wife took note of its musical approach. Though Robert did not survive, his wife was inspired to instigate a similar program at the Norton Audubon Hospital where he had worked. Now the Kentucky hospital has its own music library and full-time music therapist who carts instruments from room to room, playing songs for each patient and unearthing strong emotional responses. Encouraged by Norton Audubon's shorter patient stays and lowered costs, other hospitals in the area are starting up their own music therapy programs.

Researchers have been tracking music's healing powers and coming up with some interesting findings. Pallab Ghosh reports for BBC News that a study by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London showed that patients recovered faster and with fewer drugs when live music was a part of their medical regimen. 'The physiological benefits have been measured. Music reduces blood pressure, the heart rate, and hormones related to stress,' explained Dr. Rosalia Staricoff, administrator of the study.

In the July/August issue of Science & Theology News (article not available online), Heather Wax describes rhythm's ability to affect brainwaves. Studies show that brain waves adjust to match tempo when participants listen to rhythms attentively, enabling music to regulate mental states much like medications do. An experiment at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that regular sessions of rhythmic light and sound stimulation increased focus and IQ scores among boys with Attention Deficit Disorder and reduced behavioral problems. A University of Washington study showed that similar exposure increased the brain's blood flow and improved cognitive functioning in the elderly. Of course, many of us already use beats to alter our moods: A dose of techno can energize when deadlines loom and jazz can keep insanity at bay in the car with kids. The day may come, though, when we think of music as another drug -- administered aurally.

Go There>> Therapy of Note: A spoonful of music helps the medicine go down, so to speak

Go There Too>> Music 'Aids the Healing Process'

Related Links:
Music Therapy May Help Ease Pain
American Music Therapy Association

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