7 Ways Music Can Serve as Medicine

In 2019, the world is looking at various health technologies as the all-in-one answer to many of today’s diseases.

That said, one often underrated “techs” we should pay attention to in the digital age is the role music play in treating various ailments.

If used properly, creatively, and coupled with AI, big data, virtual reality, telemedicine, and other ingenious healthcare technologies, music can truly be used as medicine.

How so?

Glad you asked. This article takes a closer look at seven science-backed ways music can serve as medicine.

(1) Music Can help Facilitate Neurological Recovery for Parkinson’s Disease Patients

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive, incurable neurological disorder that affects nearly 10 million people worldwide.

Parkinson’s Foundation reports that around 60,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the US. In fact, it’s estimated that there’ll be more than 1 million Americans living with PD by 2020, which makes it more rampant than Lou Gehrig’s Disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and ALS combined.

Given the prevalence of this disease, many researchers have been investigating how music therapy can help people living with Parkinson’s disease. And things are looking up! A battery of recent research studies has shown that songs can help individuals with PD regain part of the neurological function. One particular medical study published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine took a more in-depth look at the influence of music therapy on 32 people living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD).  The results were outstanding:

  • Daily Performance – Music helped PD patients regain their ability to perform daily tasks like getting dressed or cook a meal.
  • Motor & Movement Skill – Most PD patients under music therapy started moving better and expressing improved motor skills. More specifically, they experienced less freezing up of muscles and falling incidents, two things that frequently occur to people living with PD.
  • Improved Quality of Life – Living with Parkinson’s disease can be challenging, if not daunting. Music therapy seemed to help improve the overall quality of life for the patients and increase a sense of happiness.

(2) Music Relieves Pain

Brain imaging technologies like fMRI have been used by neuroscientists to study the effects and map out specific brain regions that seem to be excited by melodies.

Often referred to as “chills & thrills,” intense melodic emotions have been shown to influence several brain regions usually associated with motivation, pain, arousal, and reward, including midbrain, amygdala, occipital lobe, parietal lobe, ventral striatum, and frontal cortex.

It so happens that listening to music that evokes these intense melodic emotions can help decrease the intensity or alleviate pain altogether, especially chronic and acute pains. Additionally, music can have a secondary cognitive effect on pain sufferers. As such, music not only distracts the patients from the pain itself, but it can also remind them of enjoyable and pleasant memories.

In another study, Peter Vuust and his team at Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience (CFIN) at Aarhus University, Denmark discovered that fibromyalgia patients experienced reduced chronic pain after listening to their self-chosen favorite melodies. Looking at all pain parameters, the team found out that pain decreased not just in intensity but also unpleasantness while patients were listening to music.

According to Peter Vuust, pleasant music triggers the release of the body’s own “morphine” called opioids in the brain. It’s this compound that excites the pleasure and emotion centers in the brain, causing happy feelings and reducing the pinch of the pain. This is incredible because music can be used instead of pain medication which usually is riddled with side effects, not to mention the risk of addiction.

Remarcably, using medicine for pain management produced the same types of results as leveraging virtual reality as both music and VR headsets are found to distract patients from the pain they’re experiencing.  

(3) Music Helps fight Stress

In today’s ever busy and fast-paced world, people are more stressed and depressed than ever before. Financial uncertainty, social isolation, work burnout, and unhealthy lifestyles are only a few stressors currently plaguing America. And with 57 percent of Americans saying that they are “paralyzed by stress,” finding effective ways to manage stress is more crucial now than ever. That’s where music comes into the picture.

When you are down or overwhelmed, the chances are that you’ll retreat into your cocoon and start listening to your favorite playlist. Music has a way of cajoling to our most basic and innermost emotions. It’s for this reason that music can be used as a medicine for treating stress and chronic depression.

Whether you love classical melodies or whatever tickles your fancy, music can be an effective way to absorb your attention and distract people from their stressors. It enables people to explore their emotions, reinvigorate their minds, and therefore reduce stress within their lives.

(4) Music and Coma

Helping patients come out of a coma is something that often befuddles healthcare professionals. That’s why some patients spend months, if not years bedridden when they are in a coma, which is why music is being explored as a way to facilitate faster recoveries.

You see, music can help trigger associated memories transporting someone back to a special occasion. If doctors can find out which music triggers these memories, they can use it in the third stage of coma to help patients regain consciousness.

(5) Music can help Calm Cardiovascular Patients before Surgery

Given that one heart attack happens every 40 seconds in America, cardiovascular health is of paramount importance.

Thankfully, researchers and scientists in Germany have discovered that music can be used to lower the effects of stress hormones on those at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. More specifically, the study revealed that patients recovering from an open heart surgery had lower-than-expected levels of cortisol in the blood after listening to their favorite music, most notably classic pieces.

But that isn’t all. They also found out that soothing music can help patients stay calm and relaxed before cardiac surgery. In fact, in some of the cases studies, the music-induced patients were more relaxed than those put under anti-anxiety medications.

(6) Music Helps Combat Sleep Problems

Lack of sleep can do insurmountable damage to one’s mental, physical, and emotional health and overall well-being. If not addressed in a timely fashion, repeated lack of enough sleep can lead to insomnia, sleep apnea, etc. According to recent statistics released by a consortium of researchers, nearly a quarter of US population is suffering from acute insomnia, with 6 percent expected to develop into chronic insomnia within one year.

Sleep apnea, the condition can causes repeated breaks in one’s sleep pattern, is also something of urgent concern to US healthcare. Currently, an estimated 18 million people suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea in the US, with 3.5 percent of the population struggling with moderate to chronic obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). No matter how you look at it, sleep disorders are wreaking havoc on our society.

Enter music, the answer to insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. Music has shown promising results when it comes to improving sleep duration and quality, as well as helping people fall asleep faster.

Considering that good music reduces stress, lifts mood, and help someone stay calm, it’s not surprising that it can help combat depression and insomnia. In fact, several studies have shown that depressed and insomniac patients enjoy better mood and improved sleep after listening to music.

(7) Music Helps Stroke Patients Recover Sooner

Stroke is a serious concern in the US. According to CDC, kills an average 140,000 Americans each year, which translates to 1 out of every 24 deaths. In fact, an American dies from stroke every 4 minutes, with 795,000 others surviving (and therefore living with stroke after-effects). What’s more, stroke costs the US healthcare an estimated $34 billion annuals.

The big issue among patients who survive stroke is regaining their neurological functions.

Some fail to speak again, while others take months or even years to regain their speech. The good news is that music can help stroke patients restore their ability to communicate and recognize words faster, according to a study carried out by Finnish researchers. The study looked at the effect of listening to music on stroke suffers. It discovered that patients who listened to their audiobooks recovered their verbal skills much faster, and they were less likely to be confused, anxious or depressed in the aftermath of a stroke.

There you have it – 7 ways music can serve as medicine. These are just but the tip of the iceberg. If combined creatively with AI – one of the best healthcare techs, according to HealthcareWeekly, music can truly transform treatment and patient care.

Author bio: Codrin Arsene is the CEO of Digital Authority Partners, a Chicago digital agency specializing in emerging technologies & next generation user experiences.