CC0 Public Domain
Source: CC0 Public Domain

We’ve all heard the idiom, “Music is good for the soul.” But, according to the evidence, it’s good for your health as well.

Study after study has found that music therapy has a positive effect on a broad range of physical and psychological conditions including dementia, anxiety, depression and cancer.

Before we go any further, what is music therapy anyway? Music therapy is a service delivered by caregivers in hospitals, long-term care facilities and even outpatient clinics. The goal is to improve people’s health through music experiences such as free improvisation, singing, and listening to, discussing, and moving to music.

Here’s a rundown of the most recent evidence on music therapy:

  • A small systematic review published in 2016 found that music therapy is effective in improving the mental health of people who are incarcerated. An analysis of five studies found music therapy helped promote offenders’ self-esteem and social functioning. And inmates who attended 20 or more sessions of music therapy saw improvements in levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Data show that music therapy can help alleviate depression in older adults. A meta-analysis of 19 studies found music therapy, combined with standard therapy, led to greater improvement than standard therapies for older adults with depression.
  • A larger review published in May 2017 found significant evidence that music therapy helped older adults suffering from dementia. An analysis of 34 studies, including nearly 1,800 people, found music therapy reduced disruptive behavior and anxiety and helped to improve cognitive function, depression and quality of life.
  • A study published in 2013 found that children admitted to the emergency department who listened to music during routine procedures showed less distress and reported lower pain scores than those who didn’t listen to music. The study included a total of 42 children aged 3 to 11 years who had an IV line placed. Half of them were randomly selected to listen to music chosen by a music therapist during the procedure. Health care providers reported that it was easier to insert the IV line in children who were listening to the music; health providers also reported more satisfaction with the placement compared to those who did not listen to music.
  • A 2011 review published in the Cochrane libraries found music therapy and music medicine interventions can help cancer patients. The review included 30 studies with more than 1,800 participants. Some studies included sessions with trained music therapists, while others involved medical staff playing pre-recorded music. The review found that music therapy helped the most with reducing anxiety levels. It also led to some positive effects on pain, mood, quality of life, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

The bottom line: There is plenty of evidence to show that music therapy used in health care settings can help calm patients. And given there are no negative side effects associated with music listening, it’s certainly a treatment worth trying.

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