Mind Candy

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Health benefits of music therapy

Posted by mandyf on August 16, 2012

Music is more than something to do some off key warbling to, it is in a sense real medicine. Music is not likely to get rid of your head cold, heal broken bones magically, or make you hair grow thick and lustrous 15 years after it fell out – it’s not magic. Music can however do several things that science can legitimately prove as accurate that are worth knowing about that can improve your overall health and/or mental functionality.

Have you ever heard of the Kenny Rogers Effect? Probably not, but you may have heard of it “Melodic Intonation Therapy.”  It’s sometimes called the Kenny Rogers Effect because as legend has it that just happened his music is what was chosen by the researcher who conducted the first definitive study on IMT otherwise we might have Barry White Effect. What researchers found after playing music for patients that have brain damage – primarily due to lesions or stroke – is that listening to music helped retrain their brain.

Take for instance a person that cannot speak due to left side brain damage, but do have the potential to sing because the portion of the brain dealing with music is housed on the right side. By exposing patients to music they learn to first hum, then to begin singing the words to songs, and eventually to speak again at least on a limited basis. The science behind this is that by re-training the brain to associate speech with music, the right side of the brain will then learn the speech process and assume that function. In electrician’s terms this would be called brain rewiring.

How about using music to help addicts kick their habit – or at least cut down? Music can reportedly help them as well. The basics behind this is that neurotransmitters are what carry information throughout the brain including the information that tells our brain what chemicals need to be released that make us the people we are. When a person uses drugs, the neurotransmitters function at a far lower rate because they need to transmit less information. When drug use becomes habitual, neurotransmitters like anything else you don’t exercise no longer perform their job as they should and the brain therefore does not get signals as to what chemicals need to be produced in the absence of the drug meaning you get withdrawal symptoms.

Music alone is not going to cure a heroin addiction for instance, but it can take some of the edge of of the detoxification process. The science behind it is that calming mellow music lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and muscular tension. This helps provide a buffer, even to some extent a placebo effect, to occupy and stimulate the brain in a low key gradual manner that gives it time to resume functioning properly on its own again – assuming that drug use has not already caused irreparable damage.

Music can help prevent seizures – even in coma patients. For whatever reason, Mozart played on the piano is the most effective music to achieve this. Nobody knows why exactly, they just know it does and has been proved time and again by numerous researchers working independent of each other. In most cases, Mozart on the piano can end a seizure within seconds, sometimes it takes a few minutes. There are plenty of theories as to why this particular music works, but again, nobody has a real answer.

Music can help your memory. In tests performed on people including Alzheimer’s patients, researchers found that familiar music can help trigger otherwise forgotten memories and in some cases even the emotions associated to them at the point of recall. This is something nearly everyone can test or may even know already. Say for instance the first time you had sex Al Green was on the radio singing “Let’s stay together” and that for you is a good memory. Hearing that again – even decades later would have the ability to trigger that memory and the emotion of well being and maybe even satisfaction.

Music can also help increase spatial reasoning, and even help control muscle spasms in people suffering through Parkinson’s Syndrome. Music is not a magic bullet that will cure all your ills or erase years of damage accumulated by the brain, but it can help the brain learn how to function differently and in some cases help offset the damage.


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