Music may be best medicine

By Sarah Wiedersehn

Listening to music can improve patients' quality of life, American researchers have found.
Listening to music can improve patients' quality of life, American researchers have found.

Laughter may not be the best medicine - it may actually be music.

Researchers have found significant evidence that music interventions help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, pain and fatigue in cancer patients while also helping to boost their quality of life.

A US study of more than 3700 cancer patients says music interventions of all kinds resulted in moderate-to-strong effects in reducing patients' anxiety.

There was also a large benefit for treating pain, while a small-to-moderate treatment effect was found for fatigue.

Small reductions in heart and respiratory rates as well as lowered blood pressure were also linked to music interventions, according to the study.

Lead author Associate Professor Joke Bradt, from Drexel University, says they are important findings as these outcomes play an important role in the overall well-being of patients.

"The results of single studies suggest that music listening may reduce the need for anaesthetics and analgesics, as well as decreased recovery time and duration of hospitalisation, but more research is needed for these outcomes," according to Bradt and her co-authors.

In light of the benefits to cancer patients' quality of life, and specifically their levels of anxiety, pain and fatigue, the researchers hope music interventions will become more widespread.

"We hope the findings of this review will encourage health care providers in medical settings to seriously consider the use of music therapy in the psychosocial care of people with cancer," Bradt said.

Sally Francis has seen first hand the benefits of music and the arts in cancer care.

She runs the Arts in Health programme at Flinders Medical Centre, which offers a broad range of performance, music and visual arts activities that support patient recovery.

Francis says not only does music act as a vital distraction, it also boosts a patient's self confidence at a time when control has been lost after such an arresting diagnosis.

"It takes them out of the place they're in and provides for a position of reflection or even emotional expression.

"Often if you are playing music it taps into a part of you that maybe other things don't and often when you are having treatment you're in a hospital coping with the clinical imperatives that are necessary.

"To some extent you lose a lot of your independence because you're handing over decision making to medical staff," she said.

It provides emotional and psychological support.

"Music can come in and just provide a space to let go and relax."

- AAP

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