Though some believe laughter is the best medicine, others will argue music does the trick, too.
Music can be used to promote wellness and to treat those afflicted with certain diseases through music therapy, during which a patient listens to and creates music with the goal of treating the symptoms of an illness or for physical rehabilitation.
“Music therapy has been shown to have an appreciable effect in the treatment of dementia and stroke victims,” Central Michigan University Director of Music Education Randi L’Hommedieu said.
Music therapy has been used to treat patients with neurological and mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and autism, as well as physical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. It has also been known to reduce stress, alleviate pain and improve self-esteem in healthy individuals.
It wasn’t until around the turn of the 20th century that the field of music therapy began to develop. According to the American Music Therapy Association, the first educational program in music therapy began at Michigan State University in 1944.
“Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings,” according to the AMTA website.
The healing potential of music is backed by solid scientific evidence, though not much was known about how music therapy worked in the past. In recent years, doctors have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to determine which areas of the brain respond to music.
L’Hommedieu said there is a definite correlation between music and brain function, and science has made advances in using music as a form of therapy.
“It’s been established that there’s a neurological connection between attending to music and brain function,” L’Hommedieu said. “People are using that to make some really significant advances in the advocacy and practice of music therapy.”
Music therapy activates particular parts of the brain associated with listening to and making music. Stimulating these areas of the brain can shift the balance of chemicals in the brain and reduce the symptoms of certain diseases.
Music therapy has also proven effective in aiding the recovery of people with severe brain injuries. A prime example of its success includes former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who suffered a gunshot wound to the head in 2011 and lost the ability to speak.
With the help of music therapists, she first learned how to sing again and eventually regained her speech.