The sound of health

Santa Fe New Mexican - Healthy Living - - INSIDE - By Arin McKenna Amer­i­can Mu­sic Ther­apy As­so­ci­a­tion­sic­ther­

In a 2011 in­ter­view with ABC News, just months af­ter a trau­matic brain in­jury, U.S. Rep Gabrielle Gif­fords of Ari­zona was shown joy­fully singing “This Lit­tle Light of

Mine.” Though her speech was halt­ing, she gave credit for her re­mark­able progress to mu­sic ther­apy.

“Mu­sic is a very pow­er­ful force,” said re­tired Santa Fe mu­sic ther­a­pist Mar­garet Sears, “and we have the sci­en­tific ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to prove this, par­tic­u­larly in terms of phys­i­o­log­i­cal facts. It is im­pact­ing us at the brain level, at the nerve level and ev­ery­thing else, be­cause we can’t block it out.”

Los Alamos mu­sic teacher Greg Sch­nei­der di­rects Mu­sic To­gether of Los Alamos, a pro­gram that in­tro­duces young chil­dren to mu­sic. “There are so many learn­ing cen­ters that are ac­tively stim­u­lated when you ac­tu­ally make mu­sic as op­posed to just pas­sively lis­ten­ing to it,” he said. “In singing, danc­ing and play­ing an in­stru­ment up to a dozen brain cen­ters are stim­u­lated. That is very con­ducive to learn­ing in gen­eral.

“Chil­dren who are ex­posed to mu­sic — es­pe­cially from birth to 5 years old, when they’re most re­cep­tive to learn­ing lan­guages — will go into their later years and even into adult­hood with bet­ter lan­guage skills.”

Sch­nei­der’s wife, Pauline Sch­nei­der, works with Los Alamos Vis­it­ing Nurses to pro­vide mu­sic-based ther­apy to hospice pa­tients, many of whom suf­fer from de­men­tia, a con­di­tion that af­fects mul­ti­ple ar­eas of the brain.

“They’re at a point where they don’t speak any­more, they can’t walk safely any­more, and many of their func­tions are gone,” she said, “but the mu­sic is still there, and they can still sing songs that they re­mem­ber, even when they can’t talk. Once mu­sic gets in your brain, very few things will take it away.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Ther­apy As­so­ci­a­tion (AMTA) web­site, a num­ber of re­search stud­ies show that mu­sic ther­apy de­liv­ered by cre­den­tialed mu­sic ther­a­pists can “help peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness de­velop re­la­tion­ships and ad­dress is­sues they may not be able to do us­ing words alone.” The stud­ies also re­port re­duced mus­cle ten­sion and anx­i­ety, im­proved self-es­teem and ver­bal­iza­tion, bet­ter in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and in­creased mo­ti­va­tion.

The con­tem­po­rary dis­ci­pline of mu­sic ther­apy, says the AMTA web­site, be­gan in­for­mally af­ter World War I and gained mo­men­tum again af­ter World War II, when am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians started vis­it­ing vet­er­ans hos­pi­tals across the coun­try to play for con­va­lesc­ing sol­diers. Many pa­tients showed dra­matic phys­i­cal and emo­tional im­prove­ment and the first pro­fes­sional mu­sic ther­apy cur­ricu­lum in the world was founded at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity in 1944.

To­day pro­fes­sion­ally ac­cred­ited mu­sic ther­a­pists work with peo­ple of all ages, from pre­ma­ture in­fants to el­ders suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia, and their ef­forts im­prove sleep, re­duce the fre­quency and sever­ity of asthma episodes, lessen pain, im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion and even help mo­tor func­tion for those with Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Even with­out the aid of a pro­fes­sional mu­sic ther­a­pist, ev­ery­one can ex­pe­ri­ence the benefits of mu­sic. Re­cent re­search cited by the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health re­ports that drum­ming can lower stress hor­mone lev­els, en­hance some im­mune re­sponses and be a use­ful com­ple­ment to stan­dard ad­dic­tion ther­a­pies.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a se­nior lec­turer in neu­ro­science at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, says that Gre­go­rian chants “can have a sig­nif­i­cant and pos­i­tive phys­i­o­log­i­cal im­pact” in low­er­ing blood pres­sure and in­creas­ing lev­els of the per­for­mance hor­mone DHEA, “as well as re­duc­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.”

Ac­cord­ing to the AMTA, a grow­ing num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties are of­fer­ing ad­vanced de­grees in mu­sic ther­apy and the fu­ture of the pro­fes­sion, par­tic­u­larly in phys­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Alzheimer’s dis­ease, is promis­ing. Though many peo­ple are skep­ti­cal about the benefits of mu­sic ther­apy and only a few in­sur­ance com­pa­nies cover it, suc­cess sto­ries like that of Con­gress­woman Gif­fords may be chang­ing the pre­vail­ing tune.

Noth­ing ac­ti­vates the brain so ex­ten­sively as mu­sic


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