It was 400 BC Greece and Hippocrates treated his mental patients with music. Modern music therapy has existed since 1944 in the United States. In all parts of our world, and at all times, music has been a cherished and important part of life. Music brings people together in celebrations, and we celebrate music itself. Think of the first dance at a wedding, rites of passage such as proms, Christmas carols, rock anthems, gospel songs. One way we connect deeply with the society in which we live and with those around us is with music. How much of our childhoods are wrapped up in songs and lullabies? Welcome to the possibility of music as Multiple Sclerosis therapy.
When my right arm and hand worked properly I played violin and piano. I was in the midst of learning to play guitar when my first serious attack occurred. Thanks to Gilenya, some function that I believed to have been lost has returned; however, my right hand will never be the same. Most people who have heard me play will probably not find this to be a great loss to mankind. Even so, without an ability to play music myself, I easily and often lose myself in listening to music.
When a person listens to music, many parts of the brain become active. Emerging research suggests that music can be used as therapy for a variety of illnesses including dementia, Alzheimers, and now Multiple Sclerosis.
What is the real magic of music? I believe that the musical and lyrical metaphors and subconscious content sing universal themes and truths that touch all of us. Sometimes joyful, sometimes melancholy, sometimes simply beautiful, and sometimes chaotic. It is said that scents trigger memory more than any other stimulus. I suspect music must follow closely – who hasn’t seen this video?
Our bodies react physically to music – our pupils dilate, our pulses speed up, our blood pressure rises, electrical conductance of the skin lowers, the cerebellum becomes more active, and blood is redirected to the muscles in our legs. Music triggers the release of dopamine in the dorsal and ventral striatum (in other words, we feel pleasure). Different parts of the brain work in concert (pun intended) to decipher rhythm, pitch, and melody. We analyze sounds by comparing them to other sounds we have heard. Even the visual cortex can be activated as if our minds are attempting to create an image correlating to the sound. Each person will respond to a song differently based on their experience with music, based on the type of music, and based on whether or not the song has lyrics. And I think it goes without saying that songs are entwined with our memories, affecting the medial prefrontal cortex. I always sleep soundly listening to the songs that accompanied the time when my husband and I first met. Furthermore, our bodies appear to be designed to experience music – at 5 months old, babies already react to happy songs and at 9 months can react to and be affected by sad songs.
Research with dementia and Alzheimers patients have shown that music can produce remarkable results with memory, mood, anxiety, cognitive function, and motor coordination.
Music therapy is conducted by a professional music therapist for many conditions. Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis is still in its infancy and we cannot be certain of the possibilities of this treatment. Songs are used as well as specific tones, frequencies, patterns and rhythms, harmonies and melodies. A therapist will work with an individual to determine that individual’s specific responses.
At this time, research indicates that music therapy can:
- reduce pain
- reduce spasticity
- improve balance
- improve coordination
- enhance short term memory
- improve cognitive impairment
- help to maintain attention
- enhance recognition
- assist verbalisation
- improve depression
- assuage fears
- help surpass mental blocks and resistances
- reduce stress
- reduce anxiety
- drive physical activity
Additionally, singing can improve breath support and articulation for those with MS who suffer from soft voice (hypophonia) and dysarthiria (motor speech problems).
In my experience, it is rare for someone with Multiple Sclerosis to receive physical therapy and occupational therapy. Perhaps this is related to the suffer-through-it attitudes in the deep South. While the idea of receiving music therapy seems unlikely, it can’t be unhealthy to self-medicate with song. We all have our favorites, from something soothing like “Moonlight Sonata” to a band like The Sounds which helps pick me up and get me going. While I will still listen to some sad, sad songs I know that life is short and maybe these days fun songs reign supreme. Now more than ever I will load up my iPhone with all of my favorites.
What song makes you feel less depressed? Comforts you when you’re down? Brings back your favorite memory? Helps you get things done?