Music and Health
According to a growing body of research, listening to or making music affects the brain in ways that may help promote health and manage disease symptoms.
Performing or listening to music activates a variety of structures in the brain that are involved in thinking, sensation, movement, and emotion. These brain effects may have physical and psychological benefits.
Increasing evidence suggests that music-based interventions may be helpful for health conditions that occur during childhood, adulthood, or aging. However, because much of the research on music-based interventions is preliminary, few definite conclusions about their effects have been reached. The preliminary research that has been done so far suggests that music-based interventions may be helpful for anxiety, depressive symptoms, and pain associated with a variety of health conditions, as well as for some other symptoms associated with dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions.
What the Science Says:
Music and Health
Conditions and Summary of Current Research
There is some evidence that music-based interventions may help to relieve pain associated with specific health conditions.
Music-based interventions have been evaluated for their effects on anxiety in a variety of disease conditions and health care settings. Most studies have had promising results.
It’s uncertain whether music-based interventions are helpful for people with ASD.
There is some limited evidence that music-based interventions may be helpful for shortness of breath, anxiety, and sleep quality in adults with COPD.
Much research is being done on the potential benefits of music-based interventions for people with cognitive impairment or various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Limited evidence suggests that music-based interventions may improve emotional well-being, behavioral challenges, and quality of life in people with these conditions. Whether the interventions have benefits for cognitive functioning is unclear; effects might depend on the population studied or the type of intervention used.
There is some evidence that adding music-based interventions to usual treatment may improve depressive symptoms when compared with usual treatment alone. There is also some evidence that music-based interventions may help decrease anxiety levels and improve functioning in people with depression.
Findings from several studies suggest that music-based interventions may be beneficial for coordination, balance, some aspects of gait and walking, emotional status, and pain in people with MS.
There is some limited evidence that rhythmic auditory stimulation may significantly improve gait speed and stride length in people with PD. There is some evidence that music-based movement therapy may improve motor function, balance, freezing of gait, walking speed, and mental health. In addition, a few studies have found some evidence that singing may have a beneficial effect on speech in people with PD.
Results of studies have been mixed as to whether music-based interventions can be helpful for sleep problems.
Music-based interventions, particularly music therapy, may be helpful for improving physical and psychological markers associated with stress, according to two related reviews.
There is evidence that music-based interventions may be helpful in the rehabilitation of people who have had a stroke.
Information for Your Patients
NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.
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