According to a recent article published on the NIH website, music may bring several health benefits.
“When you listen to or create music, it affects how you think, feel, move, and more,” says neuroscientist Dr. Robert Finkelstein, who co-leads NIH’s music and health initiative. “Today, modern technologies are helping researchers learn more about how the brain works, what parts of the brain respond to music, and how music might help ease symptoms of certain diseases and conditions,” he explains.
Your Brain on Music
The brain is a complex processing hub. It’s the control center of your nervous system, the network of nerve cells that carry messages to and from your body and the brain. A healthy brain tries to make sense of the world around you and the constant information it receives, including sound and music.
“Sound is an important and profound force in our lives,” explains Northwestern University neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus. “The more we exercise our sound processing in the brain, the better the brain becomes at making sense of sound and the world around us. Music does this more than any other sound.”
Music and other sounds enter the ear as sound waves. These create vibrations on our eardrum that are transformed into electrical signals. The electrical signals travel up the auditory nerve to the brain’s auditory cortex. This brain area interprets the sound into something we recognize and understand.
“Studies show that when a certain beat is embedded in music, it can help people with Parkinson’s disease walk,” Finkelstein says. Another study is looking at how dance compares to other types of exercise in people with Parkinson’s disease.
There’s also evidence that music may be helpful for people with other health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, traumatic brain injury, stroke, aphasia, autism, and hearing loss.
Building Strong Minds
Playing a musical instrument engages many parts of the brain at once. This can especially benefit children and teens, whose brains are still developing. Introducing music to young kids can positively influence their ability to focus, how they act, and language development.
Being musical may also protect you from hearing loss as you age. We naturally lose our hearing ability over time. In particular, it becomes harder to hear conversations in a loud environment. But researchers have found that musicians are better at picking out a person’s voice in a noisy background.
Listening to and making music on your own can bring health benefits. But some people may also benefit from the help of a board-certified music therapist. Music therapists are trained in how to use music to meet the mental, social, and physical needs of people with different health conditions.
“Music therapy can take many forms that go beyond listening to music,” explains Dr. Sheri Robb, a music therapist and behavioral intervention researcher at Indiana University.
Music therapists can use certain parts of music, like the rhythm or melody, to help people regain abilities they’ve lost from a brain injury or developmental disability. For example, a person who’s had a stroke may be able to sing words, but not speak them.
Music therapists also rely on the social qualities of music. Shared musical experiences can help a family member connect with a loved one who has dementia. Music can also be used to help young people with behavior disorders learn ways to manage their emotions.
Music in Your Life
Music can offer many health benefits, but it may not be helpful for everyone. Traumatic injuries and brain conditions can change the way a person perceives and responds to music. Some people may find some types of music overstimulating. Others may find that certain music brings up emotional or traumatic memories.
“It’s important for healthcare providers to identify and understand when music isn’t helpful and may be harmful,” Robb says. “And this is an area where music therapists can be helpful.”
As scientists continue to learn more about music and the brain, try striking a chord for your health. Whether you’re looking to boost your mood, stay connected to others, or improve symptoms of a health condition, add a little music to your life.
“Think of music like physical fitness or what you eat,” Kraus says. “To see the most health benefits, try to include music as a regular, consistent part of your life. It’s never too late to add music to your life.”
For a link to the entire article plus many more valuable resources on this subject go to www.chcneo.com/education and click on the musical notes icon.
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