Ease Pain and Nourish Social Connections through Music
Over the years, medical studies have shown that music has many health benefits, too. Those range from facilitating regular breathing and lifting mood to improving emotional function and motor control in patients
It’s 9 o’clock in the morning, time for 3-year-old Lucas’ weekly music therapy session. “Lucas is autistic,” his mother Katey Hernandez explained. “He has a lot of sensory processing sensitivities, which means he’s really sensitive to loud noises, bright lights and a lot of [activity] around his body, and he really likes to jump and swing and climb and anything active.”
Dixie Mazur brings to Lucas’ home session a bag full of instruments. During the session she plays music and sings. “I like to bring in a wide variety of instruments because, especially with younger kids, the attention spans naturally are very short and I like to be able to give them the freedom and ownership to kind of move our session in the direction they want to go,” Mazur said.
She brings in a piano, a couple of drums, rain stick and egg shakers, “things that provide a lot of sensory feedback as well.” Hernandez is happy with the results so far.
“It’s been very helpful,” she said. “Ms. Dixie has come up with a few songs to help him with social dialogue. So, it helps him communicate with us a lot more, when we can’t figure out what he needs.”
Healing soul and body
Music has long helped people express their emotions and connect with one another. Over the years, medical studies have shown that it has many health benefits, too. Those range from facilitating regular breathing and lifting mood to improving emotional function and motor control in patients.
So, it has become a part of the therapists’ toolbox, used either in one-on-one sessions or group settings. It can be passive, where patients listen to music, or active, where they participate in playing instruments and singing.
Zoe Gleason Volz brings music therapy to a group of people with a range of cognitive disabilities. “As a group, they don’t really engage with each other,” she said. “So, a lot of my work is trying to slowly get them to positively engage with their fellow group members and actively engage with me.”
The instruments stimulate patients’ senses and muscles. She says the impact is obvious on brain scans of people listening to it. “When you’re listening the entire brain is lit up because it’s having the music and the intellectual sides both kind of firing all at once. Whereas when you’re talking with somebody, you’re probably more into one hemisphere of the brain rather than both.”
Becoming a music therapist
There are more than 6,000 board-certified music therapists in the United States. They’ve gone through 1,000 hours of training, including getting an undergraduate degree and completing a six-month internship, and passing a certification exam.
But Kelsi Yingling, who founded NeuroSound Music Therapy, where Gleason Volz and Mazur work, looks for more than a certificate. “The type of skills we wanted to see in a therapist are strong musical skills, interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to our clients,” she said.
Music therapists should be patient and able to adapt to various situations, she says, adding that the work is easier when therapists have passion for music and for helping people. “The fact that I get to use music to help other individuals achieve their goals and their highest potential is really one of the most rewarding things I can be doing in my life,” she added. (VOA)
Stress while driving is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac complications such as heart attack, but now researchers have found that listening to Music while driving can reduce cardiac stress.
“We found that cardiac stress in the participants in our experiment was reduced by listening to music while they were driving,” said study lead author Vitor Engracia Valenti, Professor at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil.
For the study, published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers analysed the effects of music on cardiac stress in five women between the ages of 18 and 23.
“We opted to assess women who were not habitual drivers because people who drive frequently and have had a license for a long time are better adapted to stressful situations in traffic,” Valenti explained.
The volunteers were assessed on two days, in different situations and in a random order.
On one day, they drove for 20 minutes at rush hour (5:30-6:30 pm) along a three km route in a busy district of Marilia, a medium-sized city in the northwest of Sao Paulo, without listening to music.
On the other day, the volunteers drove the same route at the same time of day but listened to instrumental music on a CD player coupled to the car radio.
The use of earbuds or headphones while driving is a traffic offense.
“To increase the degree of traffic stress, we asked them to drive a car they did not own. Driving their own car might help,” Valenti said.
The level of cardiac stress was estimated by measuring heart rate variability using a heart rate monitor attached to the participant’s chest.
Defined as fluctuations in the intervals between consecutive heart beats, heart rate variability is influenced by the autonomic nervous system.
The more active the sympathetic nervous system, the faster the heart beats, while the parasympathetic nervous system tends to slow it down.
“Elevated sympathetic nervous system activity reduces heart rate variability, whereas more intense parasympathetic nervous system activity increases it,” Valenti said.
Analysis showed a reduction in heart rate variability in the volunteers who drove without music, indicating a lower level of parasympathetic nervous system activity but sympathetic nervous system activation.
Conversely, heart rate variability increased in the drivers who listened to music, indicating a higher level of parasympathetic nervous system activity and a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity.
However, the sample size used in the study was too small but significant.
“Listening to music attenuated the moderate stress overload the volunteers experienced as they drove,” Valenti said.