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Music Therapy Found to Have Physical and Mental Benefits

Posted: September 12, 2008

Exposure to music therapy can dramatically improve the mental and physical condition of patients receiving palliative care, a new study suggests.

The research team says that this is the first large study to gauge--and substantiate--the potential of music therapy as a physical and psychological aid to patients coping with advanced illness. "We've known for a while that music therapy can be used for a wide variety of things in a medical setting," said study author Lisa M. Gallagher, a music therapist with the Cleveland Music School Settlement and The Cleveland Clinic's Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine. "But this particular study clearly shows that it helps improve mood while decreasing pain, anxiety, depression and even shortness of breath among seriously ill patients."

To assess the potential for music therapy among patients with a range of chronic and/or advanced illnesses, the authors, between 2000 and 2002, focused on 200 patients battling several types of cancer, noncancerous tumors, pain disorders, sickle cell disease, aortic aneurysm, Gardner's syndrome, AIDS, neurodegenerative conditions, and other so-called "life-limiting" diagnoses. Patients were between the ages of 24 and 87, with an average age of just above 60. About 60% of the patients were women, and the research team noted that almost 30% had some sort of musical background.

Music therapy first involved the patient choosing the style of music her or she wanted to hear, after which Gallagher herself (or a music therapy intern under her guidance) played appropriate selections on keyboards. The therapy averaged approximately 25 minutes, during which patient family members were also present about a third of the time.

Physical and psychological tests were conducted both before music therapy and after an initial therapy session. The results indicated that in addition to marked benefits in patient anxiety, mood, pain and shortness of breath, more than 80% of the patients said their mood had improved following music therapy.