There’s more to music than meets the ear

Following last week’s Health-e-Byte I received a lot of questions about the benefits of music in conditions other than dementia and Parkinson’s disease. It turns out that medicine may need to make way for music in a wide range of health settings. 

In 2011, a study at McGill University in Canada found that when people listened to music, they produced the neurotransmitter dopamine, which lifts our mood and makes us feel good. Next time you get a sugar craving or feel the urge to comfort eat, play your favourite piece of music and allow yourself to get totally lost in it. Chances are, your craving or urge to eat will dissipate. If you’re prone to bouts of depression, find a variety of songs and musical pieces that trigger happy memories or simply make you feel better. Then listen to them frequently – not just when you’re depressed but on a daily basis. You may find that your depressive symptoms decrease in severity and occur less frequently.

An analysis of 72 trials involving over 7000 surgical patients revealed that listening to music after their operation reduced anxiety, pain and discomfort to the extent they required considerably less pain medication than patients undergoing the same procedures who were not played music. The greatest positive effect was seen in patients who were asked to choose the music they wanted to listen to. 

A similar pain-reducing effect was seen in patients whose hospital rooms had a view of nature. If you’re ever admitted for an operation, ask for a room with a view of the gardens (or ocean or whatever piece of nature is available) and ask them to play your favourite music as you awaken from the anaesthesia. 

One of the mechanisms by which music relieves pain is by triggering the production of opioids in the brain. Opioids have many roles in the body including pain reduction and stress relief. Even in people with severe fibromyalgia, music was found to lessen pain and fatigue, and improve movement. Maybe doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies should start playing popular music? Let the healing begin before the consultation starts. 

Stroke patients are also benefiting from the use of music in therapy. Listening to 2 hours of music every day enhanced not only their mood but also their concentration and ability to remember words and abstract concepts. In stroke patients whose ability to communicate had been compromised, a technique known as Neurological Music Therapy (NMT) is being used to help them regain lost language skills.

‘Where words fail, music speaks.’ – Hans Christian Andersen 

To discover more ways to boost your brain, I’d love to meet you at one of my free talks at a Ryman Retirement Village in Melbourne on 3rd or 4th June. Click here for details. 

Photo credit: HeinzDS on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

  • Jeanette H

    What a good idea. I need to loose 15kilos for my heart and feet. I decided yesterday to have three meals a day and no sugar food. I can’t do it by myself. Over the years I have tried, succeded. and then went back to what I was and heavier.
    I have asked someone to pray for me and I will use your message and use Music as a helper.
    Thank You

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