More and more hospitals and clinics are using relaxation music and other kinds of music to complement medical and clinical treatment and it is also becoming a fast growing area of cutting edge research. Pioneering work in the use of music for pain relief in hospitals in Germany and the US has managed to reduce the dosage of pain killers by up to 50% for many patients. In India doctors and musicians are working together to produce music specifically designed to treat different illnesses and conditions, and research in US has opened up the therapeutic use of music in the treatment of degenerative and motor impaired patients.
Patients undergoing traditional auyravedic treatments in the ashram hospital in Mysore, India, have for some time been treated with relaxation music but it is now being used in other departments specialising in pain management, recovery and relaxation. Patients are played specifically composed relaxation music and the brain waves are monitored with the aim of increasing the level of low frequency or alpha brain waves. They have found that the relaxing music enables the brain to function in a more relaxed way, lowering the pulse and heart rate and raising the level of oxygen in the blood resulting in patients needing lower doses of pain killer with average recovery times three days faster than usual.
Remarkable clinical research in Germany with over 10000 patients over 20 years has resulted in relaxation music reducing the need for pre medication for pre-surgery by up to 50% and in many patients has reduced the dosage of analgesics and sedatives by 100%!
These extraordinary trails have involved cross-disciplinary collaborations between musicians and doctors who use specific compositions for specific conditions such as muscle tension, head aches and back pain. One of the advantages that relaxation music has over drug treatment is that it has the power to deal with all different facets of a particular condition. Migraine for example is usually caused by a combination of high muscle tension, neuralgia and circulatory problems and whereas drugs tend to treat each cause separately, music can be very effective on all levels.
Therapeutic use of relaxation music has also been shown to significantly affect the production of endorphins and other hormones which aid natural pain relief and speedy recovery.
Research being carried out at the Beth Abraham hospital in New York with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia and the rehabilitation of stroke patients has shown that alpha brain waves in the low frequency range of around 40 cycles is very often totally absent in sufferers of these conditions. Relaxation music rich in these frequencies played as background can have a profound effect on memory, speech and motor skills.
Playing the drums is also very beneficial for movement and motor skills – feeling the rhythm and the fact that a patient is working creatively seem to be able to bypass blockages and enable more muscle control than in non musical exercises. Working with rhythm helps to organise movement without having to think about the actual action – in many cases of serious brain injury the ‘executive function’ the actual act of thinking about movement or speech is damaged but music and especially rhythm can trick the brain into working spontaneously.
It used to be thought that music was processed in only one area of the brain, but it is now known that different elements of music such as rhythm and melody are centered around different regions of the brain. Its is common that patients who have problems with speech can sing without difficulty, and that the lyrics of a song will stay even when the memory is severely impaired.
The brain relies on a huge interconnected network to arrive at any single response, and if one part is not functioning other networks can be ‘patched in’ to compensate and bypass damaged networks by repeatedly triggering the new areas. Music seems to be an effective way to stimulate this process and has helped hundreds of patients to improve speech, memory and movement.