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Music’s Healing Power: During a time of pandemic music has a place in care
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
Tenafly, NJ
Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Dr. Patricia A. Farrell

Music has played a central role in cultures all over the world for millennia. Today, in multiple forms of therapy, drumming and the use of musical instruments have found a place, once again, in traditional medicine for both physical and mental ills. 


The traditional use of music had re-entered the medical domain, and, during a pandemic, shouldn't we be using everything available? "During the early years of the twentieth century, physicians, musicians, and psychiatrists noted that music might be an effective treatment aid in a variety of settings. Musicians sometimes served as unpaid part-time staff members who worked under the supervision of hospital personnel."


Over 63,000 Americans have died during this COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them died alone without the loving touches, the shared goodbyes, and the final look at the faces of loved ones.


The usual scenario, with these patients on ventilators, is that the only people in the room are those who are heavily garbed, medical professionals. The only sounds heard in the room are the humming of machines that are there to prolong life. 


However, in the scheme of things, according to statistics released, up to 80% and potentially more of those who are placed on ventilators die. No one is blaming the healthcare professionals, who work to the detriment of their health and energy, to save these lives. Now they need a return to an interventional modality, music.


The famous neurologist and author, Dr. Oliver Sacks, in a magazine interview, stated what he believed music's role was. "Sharing music is one of the most powerful ways humans bond together, and this has obvious survival value. We still use music in this way, to come together in singing religious songs, holiday music, national anthems, protest songs, even "Happy Birthday." What music would be most effective in the ICU?


When all the usual personal bonds have been lost in a swarm of medical technology, music can remain the one bond we retain to our humanity. It may be this bond to life that aids us in clinging to life when all else in the medical world has failed us.


Music and Stress


It has been suggested that music may also improve the body's immune system functioning and lead to the use of fewer medications required. Professor Lisa Hartling indicated, "There is growing scientific evidence showing that the brain responds to music in very specific ways.… Playing music for kids during painful medical procedures is a simple intervention that can make a big difference." Another music intervention is based on vibration, known vibroacoustic therapy; it utilizes low-frequency sound, which may have potential as a therapy for Parkinson's disease, fibromyalgia, and depression.


Music also lowers the body's stress hormone, cortisol, which can have detrimental effects on the entire body if it is continuously being released. Patients in an ICU would be experiencing high levels of stress and, most probably, higher levels of cortisol, which can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and several other symptoms detrimental to health.


"A bit surprising is that Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind even when played moderately loud. Sounds of rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing particularly when mixed with other music, such as light jazz, classical (the "largo" movement), and easy listening music."


The use of music for COVID-19 patients is being implemented at a New York City hospital after a physician noted how music helped her. Seemingly, a return to a more natural form of therapy may become a part of the current armamentarium in the wake of this pandemic and in healthcare in general.

Music may be one of our "good from bad" moments and, in this regard, we can find a positive note in the perplexing world of the "new normal."


Website: www.drfarrell.net

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Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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