How Music Helps with Mental Health

Will Tottle, an editor at My Audio Sound in the UK, has written an outstanding article on the benefits of music and music therapy on mental health – and that really includes ALL of us, doesn’t it?  I can definitively say that had it not been for classical music playing in the house while I was caring for my mother (almost all the time – even softly under the level of conscious awareness), that our mood, our conversation, and therefore our lives would have been intolerable!

playing music musician classic

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Each morning, I’d walk through the kitchen into Mom’s bedroom and she would know I was coming because I would turn the radio on first thing. It was always set to our local classical station, W-QXR (which is also available online if you are out of range).  Several people I know are caring for their parents now and I have seen how different our household was to theirs.  Without the constant discussion of medications and treatments, or comments that sound eerily similar to the way one would talk to a small child, many have little to talk about with their loved ones once a certain level of dementia is reached.

That was not the case with Mom and I as we talked about composers and instruments, concerts and conductors, or made up stories to match the piece that was playing. Because it was a memory for her from the age of about five when her father had her listen to Beethoven’s “Pastoral” and learn the peasant dance (‘I see you, I see you, tra-la-la-la-la-la’), it was an image that would always remain.  In fact, there were days that I would wonder if I’d made the whole dementia thing up, until she’d call me ‘Mummy’ or ask when Daddy would be home.

The radio or CD is still always on in my home, and I still use the power of music to help me through the times of my life: the classical “Greats” when I am sad or heartsick and don’t want to listen to the inane chatter of current radio announcers; Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie late at night when I have a deadline for a report; Broadway musicals to elevate my spirit and give me energy to tackle a project; opera duets to make me sing out loud, cry and wake up hidden emotions. The soundtrack from the 1983 film, Flashdance, still makes me want to exercise like a madwoman, and oddly, Frank Sinatra compels me to clean my house (that’s another story).

The Fifth Annual Conference for the International Society of Music in Medicine was just held in Barcelona, but it has been well documented since the 5th Century BC that music has been used as therapy for healing the body, soul and mind.  Only now do our MRI’s and PET scans show what the ancient Greeks knew: that listening, playing and writing music has an effect on the brain. I have become acutely aware in the last five years or so of what a large part it plays in our emotions and mental health and I feel compelled to encourage others to use it in the course of their caregiving duties.  Play what your loved ones want to hear, be it Elvis or Tex Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby or the Beatles – even if you need to have them listen with headphones so it doesn’t annoy you. It’s such a little thing but it really does make a huge difference in the quality of our lives!

I have a large collection of CD’s from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as well as symphonies, sonatas, concertos, ballets and new age music. I choose to listen to them the way a chef

headphones man music person

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selects spices, or a doctor recommends prescriptions. (I do the same thing with favorite inspirational books.) Should I ever find myself suffering a memory loss, I hope my caregivers will look to my collection to keep me happily occupied.

I encourage you to read Will Tottle’s article.  His research is impeccable, and he has included an extensive bibliography to back up his statements. His sources of information are current and relevant to anyone who is seeking an alternative or augmentative solution to drugs for the alleviation of symptoms of depression, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, autism, stress, insomnia, and a host of other conditions – as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

You can find his excellent post here.



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