- Alzheimer’s Patients Benefit From Lessons; Could Point to Help for All Ages-
For the first time, a major research effort has not only demonstrated a link between music and wellness, but has quantified it. A study led by Dr. Frederick Tims of Michigan State University and published in the November 1999 issue of Alternative Therapies showed that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) who underwent four weeks of structured music therapy showed significant increases in their level of melatonin, a neurohormone linked with sleep regulation and believed to influence the immune system.
Immediately after the therapy, which consisted of interactive sessions during which subjects were invited to play, drum or sing along with their favorite old songs and new songs, the group of 20 male patients showed a 216 percent mean increase in serum melatonin levels compared to readings taken just before the therapy began. What’s more, the levels had increased even more when researchers checked them again six weeks later.
"This is the first time we’ve quantified the effects of music," says Dr. Mahendra Kumar of the University of Miami School of Medicine, one of the researchers behind the study. In addition to the observed chemical changes, he notes, "Their quality of life seemed to be improved just by this small music intervention. They became very active, they started sleeping better and they became more cooperative with the nurses."
The study also noted changes in other brain chemicals such as prolactin, serotonin, norepinephrine and epinephrine. Perhaps more importantly, it found that the fluctuations in these chemicals correlated with each other to varying degrees, indicating that the music therapy was affecting the larger natural process by which the brain regulates their levels. In particular, other studies have indicated that norepinephrine and epinephrine may play a role in determining melatonin levels.
This study is not the first to suggest that music is linked with wellness. In earlier, separate work, for example, another team led by Dr. Tims found that retirees who took keyboard lessons showed an increase in human growth hormone (hGH) and decreases in anxiety, depression and loneliness. Dr. Kumar indicated that other promising avenues of research might lead from the Miami study, especially with regard to music therapy’s effects on younger people and people without AD.