Music as Medicine

musicEarlier this month I attended the inaugural International Association for Music and Medicine conference in Limerick, hosted by the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance  in association with UL’s Graduate Medical School.

Conference organiser Prof Jane Edwards, director of the MA in Music Therapy in UL, organised a number of visits by visiting experts in the field to three local healthcare settings, including the Mid-Western Regional Maternity and General hospitals and Milford Care Centre, a hospice and nursing home in Castletroy, Co Limerick.

Over lunchtime presentations to staff, the visitors emphasised the potential for music to be used in hospital environments, and shared news of recent research findings which, for the first time, have begun to explain why and how music can exert a positive impact on recovery for a wide spectrum of individuals, including those with cancer, asthma, autism, cystic fibrosis and epilepsy. It can also be helpful to those who must be weaned off mechanical ventilation in intensive care units, babies in neo-natal intensive care units, those bereaved and those experiencing significant communication difficulties after strokes.

Music has also been shown to exert a positive influence on an individual’s ability to manage pain and on mothers’ ability to cope with labour pain. And let’s be honest, any woman who’s found herself, legs akimbo at the mercy of a gynaecologist, would jump at the chance to have an iPod to hand to mitigate the mechanical discomfort of the procedure.

The potential for music to soothe and sway, to support and direct patients’ recovery, straddles the boundaries of acute medicine and preventive healthcare. What’s more, it would appear that the research community is rapidly documenting its benefits and that medics are far more open to what music might have to offer than we might have expected.

Over lunchtime presentations to staff, the visitors emphasised the potential for music to be used in hospital environments, and shared news of recent research findings which, for the first time, have begun to explain why and how music can exert a positive impact on recovery for a wide spectrum of individuals, including those with cancer, asthma, autism, cystic fibrosis and epilepsy. It can also be helpful to those who must be weaned off mechanical ventilation in intensive care units, babies in neo-natal intensive care units, those bereaved and those experiencing significant communication difficulties after strokes.

Edwards acknowledges the restorative properties of music, but is just as keen to emphasise that it is no miracle cure. It’s a potentially powerful component of a holistic medical care programme, she suggests.

“Music therapy has some really good research findings,” she says, “about treating secondary symptoms, such as anxiety and sleeplessness, but less so about, for example, shrinking the size of a tumour. The patient’s psychological state and emotional response to their illness will have an impact on both the outcome of their treatment and on their ability to participate in everything that’s required of them. Music therapy can play a real role in how the individual adjusts to his or her personal circumstances.”

(This post adapted from today’s Irish Times. To read the article in full please click here) 

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