Medicine and music

Although every healthy human brain is able to perceive music, musician’s brains are more finely attuned to these tasks. Earlier this month, artist and academic, Dr Pauline Amos performed live, in Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf, creating a multi-sensory experience of theatre, painting and sound, in collaboration with the British period instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Painting with her hands and body, Dr Amos responded spontaneously to the inspiration of the music and the place.

Many doctors love music, and many are fine musicians in their own right, playing everything from classical music to rock. In fact several medical schools have started courses that use music to shape future physicians’ listening skills. Research suggests that creating art or music can raise morale, relieve stress and improve personal resilience – positively benefiting patients, doctors and health workers alike.

Research suggests that creating art or music can raise morale, relieve stress and improve personal resilience – positively benefiting patients, doctors and health workers alike.

A recent report published this month in PMLD Link – showing the findings of the “What Good Looks Like” project, a pilot study run by two Winchester-based music therapists, in which 22 music therapy sessions took place in a supported living home in Sutton, London revealed that music therapy positively impacts wellbeing of care homes, residents and staff.

The power of music to improve the lives of vulnerable people is known amongst experts and some caregivers. However up until now, only a few have been able to benefit, and the growing academic evidence and research base have largely been unknown.

People who took part in the sessions – both care home residents and the staff – said they were positive experiences and enabled people to talk openly about subjects such as loss and stress. Music has the power to develop open, relaxed and positive relationships in care home settings, making it safer for residents and staff.

Meta Killick and Alistair Clarkson, Music Therapists in the Sutton clinical health team who led the sessions, are co-founders of Winchester-based music therapy company Living with Harmony. They set up Living with Harmony following the success of the “What Good Looks Like” project to bring music therapy sessions to vulnerable people across Hampshire.

Meta said: “Our care system is one to be proud of, but we know there are challenges surrounding a culture of fear which can impact on patients, residents and staff. Music has the ability encourage people to have open and honest conversations, on an equal footing, which enhances a feeling of happiness. Through happiness people feel safer. It is clear that music has a profound impact on the people and helps them come together as a community in a positive way.”

Peter Oaks, author of the report and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Hull, added: “Music knows no boundaries and cuts through the stigma. Harnessing that power and energy would benefit so many people in care home settings as well as other places that help or take care of vulnerable people. More research needs to be done to evaluate the role of music in opening relationships and improving the closed culture that we see in many care settings in the UK, to expand the evidence-base to help guide policy change.”

The project has shown that music can help vulnerable people and their carers explore issues and emotions to create a more positive environment, which is what Living with Harmony aim to do through their work with care homes in Hampshire. Participants are able to take part in improvised music making or songs that they already know. They are encouraged to use instruments and their voice but also listen to each other. The sessions are tailored to the individual environment and designed to allow participants to make the most out of their inner musicality to boost their wellbeing and improve their quality of life.

As well as music improving care home settings it has also been shown to help people with dementia. A recent report by The International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK), with support from The Utley Foundation, detailed the benefits of music therapy including reducing the symptoms of dementia. Singing seems to improve cognitive function in people with dementia, and leads to significantly faster recovery from post-natal depression. Drumming helps reduce anxiety and depression and enhances wellbeing.

“Where words fail, music succeeds,” Alistair added. “Vulnerable people can find it very difficult to articulate what they are feeling or experiencing.  Music has a way of helping us express ourselves in a safe way. We are delighted to be able to bring music therapy to vulnerable people across Hampshire. Music Therapy offers an exciting form of expression and we want more people to experience it.”

Dr Pauline Amos will be exhibiting at the Herrick Gallery, 93 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1, from the 26th November – 1st December 2018

Rebecca Wallersteiner

Rebecca Wallersteiner

Rebecca Wallersteiner is a health and arts journalist, who writes for The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, NetDoctor, Telegraph, The Times, Traveller and
The Oldie magazines. She also works for the NHS and is the Hippocratic Post's roving reporter.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

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