Last week I complained about a run-in between my fingers and a mandolin. I was intrigued when my neurologist ended an email with “Remember, music heals.”
What has she been reading? She consistently tells me about of new studies on MS, usually having to do with vitamins or drugs; sometimes exercise and diet—but never music.
Before asking her to explain, I looked into it. I found three areas where music is used for therapy: emotional, cognitive and muscular.
Emotional Music is used to relieve stress (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3734071/). This is intuitive: music has a capacity to weave up emotions, to draw us into an emotional stream.
One friend of mine says she listens to favorite music when she changes her mood by doing something enjoyable. Another friend has a favorite artist she listens to when she needs to give the blues time to work their way through her system.
Cognitive A friend of mine uses music as more than a solution to the MS blues:
“I play Renaissance music with a group of friends on a weekly basis. I recommend that if you used to play a musical instrument and gave it up, pick it up again. It is so helpful to mood. Even just playing by yourself and learning or improving your skills. I always feel more relaxed and mood elevated after am done playing my flute or recorder. Playing a musical instrument has been shown to improve communication between neurons. So you’re having fun and improving brain function at the same time!”
Why is this? One study says it has to do with blood flow https://hms.harvard. edu/sites/default/files/assets/Sites/Longwood_Seminars/Longwood%20Seminar%20Music%20Reading%20Pack.pdf.
A recent PBS interview spoke of the healing power of music—and, no surprise, it mentions brain repair (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health-jan-june12-musictherapy_02-27).
NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reported that when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington for the State of the Union address, it was clear she had made a dramatic recovery after being shot in the head a year before. “Her family credits music therapy.” He explained this: “While research on the neurological effects of music therapy is in its infancy, what is known is that a number of regions in the brain are activated by listening to music. Scientists say the brain responds to music by creating new pathways around damaged areas.”
Muscular This is key for many of us with MS—beyond recovering cognitive functioning (which is wonderful in itself), music is used to help people recover muscle ability: There is a use in muscular dystrophy and for other situations calling for muscle repair, such as in work with veterans who are learning to walk without a limb (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health-jan-june12-musictherapy_02-27/).
A Harvard study agrees; stating that music helps not only with brain pathways for cognitive results, but also for muscle control for people with Parkinsons; https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/ assets/Sites/Longwood_Seminars/Longwood%20Seminar%20Music%20Reading%20Pack.pdf. Another study speaks of this as well: “music can produce substantial effects on movement-related symptoms as well as psychological ones in PD treatment (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC4553388/).
Music is used for muscular control in MS as well “Music therapy is also especially effective for movement rehabilitation” reports the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) (http://musictherapy.imnf.org/services/category/outpatient-multiple-sclerosis).
We More Than Deserve Music
Many of us often won’t allow money and time to be spent on unimportant pursuits. This is our chance to give ourselves music. Making music, making it available in our lives—is not frivolous.
Though many studies on music and healing are so recent as to be mainly anecdotal or pilot studies, not all of them are. The cognitive effect of adding this richness to our lives has been proven.
We more than deserve music in our lives, our bodies are better for it.