Prepare your brain for a bountiful flood of new research on how music can “Change the Brain.” For years, music therapy experts, caregiving professionals and family members have known, from personal experience, that music does something – or a combination of somethings – to improve health and elevate mood. But, the nature of that something remained mysterious.
What plausible mechanisms might explain the benefits of music? How can art – either creating it or appreciating it – actually change biological functions? Music is a form of art that seems too ethereal and insubstantial to be equated with medicine. For some, art doesn’t seem scientific enough to be taken seriously as a medical intervention.
Fortunately, or maybe finally, the study of art and the brain has become a hot research topic. Music, in particular, is being explored from a variety of angles and the “something” that contributes to health and wellness is being identified. For example, an article by Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel Levitin of McGill University with a purposeful title, The Neurochemistry of Music, explored how music influences the expression of a variety of important biological systems.
This kind of rigorous research will eventually provide the foundation of evidence the health care industry needs to make the strategic delivery of music and art an integral part of every wellness program.
Breakthrough books such as Levitin’s “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession” and “Musicophilia” by Oliver Sacks have provided popular overviews of the power of music and persuasive scientific evidence continues to accumulate. As this surge of research findings are assembled, it reveals a widening range of biological functions that are profoundly influenced by music.
The evolution of music research may have reached an irreversible public awareness tipping point with the March-April 2015 issue of the popular Scientific American Mind magazine. The cover story Music Can Heal the Brain signals that the discussion has moved from wondering if to explaining how.
It is encouraging to note that a growing number of groups are exploring how to translate the emerging scientific insights into practical programs. In 2012, for example, Oliver Sacks and Dr. Bill Thomas put their considerable weight behind the documentary film, Alive Inside directed by Michael Rosario-Bennett.
You can also read my review of Alive Inside here.
The film tells the story of Alzheimer’s patients, like Henry, who are brought back to life through music. The film follows the efforts of Dan Cohen, founder of Music & Memory, to provide iPods and headphones for elders who seemed to be lost to dementia. This elegantly simple access to meaningful music touched something within these elders. They were alive again with the sound of music and millions of viewers were able to witness how music combats memory loss and provides people with prolonged periods of profound joy.
MINDRAMP, like everyone else who saw this award-winning documentary film, was inspired and moved. We have integrated the topic of music as medicine into our MINDRAMP projects, including “The Aging Mind” gerontology course and have produced a number of teaching videos on the subject (“The Neurochemistry of Music” / “The Power of Music”).
We recognize that individual strands of scientific evidence still need to be wound together into solid cords of understanding. These cords then need to be woven together to create the sturdy fabric of a compelling, evidence-based narrative that can be understood by scientists, health care providers and the general public alike. But, progress is being made.
So, what’s over the horizon? We fully believe that the construction of a music intervention research pathway is well underway. We also believe that music research will provide a blueprint for other non-pharmaceutical, sensory-based cognitive interventions. This spring term, we will be exploring the health benefits of music and other sensory interventions with the launch of a pair of new college gerontology courses, “Cognitive Activity Design” and “Arts & Cognitive Activity Design.” In the later, we will be investigating the unique benefits of the full range of art domains. For more information about these online courses contact us at www.mindramp.org.