Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2014 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified health care professional before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
Uses based on scientific evidence
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.
Structured music therapy programs have been found to improve mood in institutional long-term care workers facing burnout and autologous stem cell transplant patients. There is also evidence that combining music with guided imagery may lead to reduced fatigue, mood disturbance, and blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).
The relaxation response is a physiological state that speeds up many of the body's healing responses. Relaxation leads to reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and tension, as well as many other beneficial changes. Music therapy has been shown to cause relaxation.
People with autism spectrum disorders often show a heightened interest and response to music. This may aid in the teaching of verbal and nonverbal communication skills and in establishing normal developmental processes.
In older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, and other mental disorders, music therapy has been found to reduce aggressive or agitated behavior, reduce symptoms of dementia, improve mood, and improve cooperation with daily tasks, such as bathing. Music therapy may also decrease the risk of heart or brain diseases in elderly dementia patients.
There is evidence that music therapy may increase responsiveness to antidepressant medications. In elderly adults with depression, a home-based program of music therapy may have long-lasting effects. In depressed adult women, music therapy may lead to reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and depressed mood. Music therapy may also be beneficial in depression following total knee replacement surgery or in patients undergoing hemodialysis.
Infant development / neonatal care
There is evidence that music played to the womb during late pregnancy may lead to children being more responsive to music after birth. Soothing music may help newborns be more relaxed and less agitated. Pre-term newborns exposed to music may have increased feeding rates, reduced days to discharge, increased weight gain, and increased tolerance of stimulation. They may also have reduced heart rates and a deeper sleep after therapy.
Music therapy helps in a wide range of pain conditions, primarily by its ability to improve mood, encourage relaxation, and increase pain threshold. Most research has shown positive results. However, studies, especially those that involved severe pain, have not found benefits.
Parkinson's patients have shown modest improvement in symptoms including in some aspects of motor coordination, speech intelligibility and vocal intensity, bradykinesia (slow movement), emotional functions, activities of daily living, and quality of life.
Quality of life
Quality of life is a broad concept comprising morale, mood, self-esteem, daily functioning, pain, general well-being, life satisfaction, and related issues. Music therapy has been associated with improved quality of life in a variety of populations, usually based on regular group sessions over several weeks. Benefits to quality of life from such an approach have been seen in cancer patients, seniors with emphysema, elders in long-term care, terminal/hospice patients, and multiple sclerosis.
Music therapy that includes either chorus or karaoke may improve interpersonal functioning in people with schizophrenia. Music therapy may also help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, including psychosis. Non-classical music was found to be more effective than classical music. Also, it does not seem to make a difference if the music is live or recorded or if therapy is structured or not structured.
In older adults, music may result in significantly better sleep quality as well as longer sleep duration, greater sleep efficiency, shorter time needed to fall asleep, less sleep disturbance, and less daytime dysfunction. There is also evidence of benefit in elementary-age children or stable preterm infants. Music therapy may also be as effective as chloral hydrate in inducing sleep or sedation in children undergoing EEG testing.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
More study is needed in this area before a strong recommendation can be made.
Music therapy may reduce pain and anxiety in adults undergoing heart surgery, although it does not appear to improve heart rate or blood pressure. In children, music therapy may improve heart rate and breathing rate, as well as reduce pain.
Based on early research, music therapy may help children learning English as a second language, although more studies are needed to confirm this finding. Music therapy has also been studied as a possible way to improve learning and communication skills in patients with Rett syndrome or pseudo-Parkinsonian vascular disease.
Routine chest physiotherapy (CPT) is a component of prophylactic therapy in children with cystic fibrosis (CF) and requires significant time and energy. There is some evidence that children's tolerance and enjoyment of physiotherapy may benefit from music therapy.
Grieving children may benefit from a group music therapy program in terms of both improved mood and reduced problematic behavior in school.
Music therapy may help maintain mental functioning in elderly adults undergoing surgical procedures, reduce postoperative confusion and delirium, and increase energy levels.
Music therapy may reduce levels of nausea and episodes of vomiting in bone marrow transplant patients during the preparatory period when they are receiving high-dose cyclophosphamide.
Ringing in the ears
A specially designed music therapy may help improve symptoms of ringing in the ears. More research is needed.
Music can have a calming or sedating effect. There is evidence of this in studies of patients undergoing gastrointestinal endoscopic procedures, including evidence that colonoscopy patients who used music intervention may have a higher rate of completed colonoscopies and shorter examination time. Other work suggests that patients undergoing spinal anesthesia may have less need for sedative medication during and after surgery.
*Key to grades:
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;B: Good scientific evidence for this use; C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
For full grading rationale, click here.
Uses based on tradition or theory
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional
Abuse, addiction, adjunct in surgery (reduced stress during extra corporeal membrane oxygenation), aggression, alcoholism, anger, antisocial behavior, asthma, balance, bipolar disorder, brain injuries, breathing difficulties, cardiac conditions, childbirth, cognitive performance enhancement (problem solving), concentration enhancement, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), coping skills, diabetes, dyspnea, eating disorders, epilepsy, headaches, hallucinations (auditory), high blood pressure, impulsivity, increasing agility, irritability, joint mobility, melatonin deficiency (in people with Alzhemier's), migraine (children), motion sickness, multiple sclerosis, muscle tension, neurodermatitis, neurological trauma, post-operative recovery, post-stroke rehabilitation, prevention of pregnancy complications, psoriasis, psychological disorders (low therapy motivation), pulmonary conditions (respiration rate, respiratory muscle strength), rehabilitation, restlessness, spinal cord injury, strength, stroke, well-being (hopelessness).
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
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