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Search Health Information    The Sound of Comfort
 Caregiver Center Feature Story

The Sound of Comfort
Some caregivers use music to help improve a person's quality of life

The Sound of Comfort(HealthDay News) -- People who care for those who are ill or injured may want to inquire about using music as a complementary therapy.

The healing power of music has been observed since ancient times, according to the American Music Therapy Association, in Silver Spring, Md. Music therapy is currently used in a wide variety of care settings, generally by a trained music therapist. According to the association, music interventions can be designed to:

  • Promote wellness
  • Manage stress
  • Alleviate pain
  • Help people express feelings
  • Enhance memory
  • Improve communication
  • Promote physical rehabilitation
"We are not teaching people how to play the guitar or piano, or singing just to entertain," Dena Register, associate professor of music therapy at the University of Kansas, told HealthDay. Therapy is aimed at improving a person's quality of life through music, she explained.

And researchers are beginning to quantify the health benefits that music seems to convey.

In one review of clinical trials, researchers compared music interventions plus standard care with standard care alone among people on mechanical ventilation, or breathing support. The analysis found that listening to music may have a beneficial effect on people's heart rate, respiratory rate and anxiety. However, because the review involved only eight studies, and a total of 213 people, the authors concluded that more research is needed.

The study was published by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent, not-for-profit organization that produces and disseminates information on health-care interventions.

Separately, a Cochrane review of five randomized clinical trials comparing music with standard care or other treatments for depression showed that music may improve the mood of people who are depressed. But again, the researchers added that they cannot be confident about the effectiveness of music therapy because of the small number and low quality of the studies.

However, a pilot study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics -- said to be the largest of its kind to date -- may help substantiate music as a clinical intervention. The initial findings associate music therapy with reduced depressive symptoms and high treatment compliance.

There is some evidence that music therapy, along with conventional treatment, can help to reduce pain and relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, according to the American Cancer Society. However, the society notes that musical interventions by untrained people may be ineffective or even cause stress and discomfort.

Music is increasingly being used in hospice and palliative-care settings, the Cochrane group points out. And though more research needs to be done, a limited number of studies suggest that might have a beneficial effect on the quality of life of people in end-of-life care.

Music is also widely used to help people with dementia. According to the U.S. National Institute on Aging, music may help people with Alzheimer's disease bring back happy memories from the past. Even people who have trouble holding conversations may be able to sing songs from the past, it reports.

The agency also offers guidelines for people caring for someone with Alzheimer's who want to use music:

  • Play CDs, tapes or records.
  • Talk about the band and the singer.
  • Ask what the person you're caring for was doing when the song was popular.
  • Talk about the music and past events.
  • Sing or dance to well-known songs.
  • Play musical games, such as "Name That Tune."
  • Attend a concert or musical program.

On the Web

To learn more about music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Dena Register, Ph.D., associate professor, music therapy, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.; Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, news release, Nov. 10, 2010; Cochrane Collaboration (www.cochrane.org); American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org); American Music Therapy Association (www.musictherapy.org); U.S. National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov)

Author: Karen Pallarito

Publication Date: Jan. 31, 2011


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