Pianist Mike Garson, 68, rocked a 90-second solo on David Bowie’s 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. The artist who usually plays jazz or a jazz-classical fusion is now focussing on music that might help heal the mind, body and soul. Partnering with Dr. Christopher Duma, a brain surgeon, Garson has written 30 compositions under the heading Symphonic Suite for Healing. Garson and Duma tested preliminary recordings of the works with 100 of Duma’s patients to discover which would produce positive effects. Duma, who regularly does brain surgery with rock music piped into the surgical suite, knows the benefit of music and is eager to find music-related treatments for brain cancer and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Garson is a logical partner as he discovered that his piano playing calmed his grandson who is autistic. “I’ve seen with my own eyes that music produces a calmer temperament. It’s therapeutic…”
Rock and roll has always been a part of Dr. Steven Eisenberg’s life. He plays the guitar and enjoys writing tunes. But when dealing with a health challenge, he entered a story in a contest and won first prize which was, ironically, that someone would write a song for him. The San Diego oncologist relates that the song helped him so much, he realized he could do the same for his patients. “To look someone in the eye and say ‘This might be life-threatening and terminal’ is just the hardest thing I can can ever imagine doing.” So after long days of diagnosing and treating patients, he goes home and writes songs for those with serious conditions. His process is to interview the patient, asking lots of questions to spark the creative process. Eventually he gets an idea, lets it “marinate” for a while and then, when he picks up his guitar, “The song almost writes itself.” One patient was able to get through weeks of chemotherapy knowing that at the end, Dr. Eisenberg would play her song. He even made a house call to do so.
Knowing that doctors are often criticized for focussing on the disease and not the support that patients need, Eisenberg started stopping in the chemo suite to play. At first he got a lot of strange looks, but after a while clients were telling him that he changed their focus–now they were listening to music, not getting chemo therapy. Because of this positive reaction, he’s made a promise to stop in more frequently.
Eisenberg and other physicians are familiar with research that shows how music can reduce pain, increase movement and improve overall quality of life. Dr. Joshua Grill, PhD, is the director of the Katherine & Benjamin Kagan Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment Development Program. He is collecting pre-owned iPods and MP3 players, iTunes gift cards and headphones for Alzheimer’s patients. “Studies have found that music has the ability to uniquely activate the brain. ..and studies have even shown that it can activate pleasure and reward centers in the brain…There are many anecdotal reports of music unlocking happy memories in patients.”
When my mother was living in the Memory Unit, music was always a part of the clients’ day. Known to help with sundowning, a common disruption in the sleep-wake cycle that causes confusion, anxiety and agitation to increase at the end of the day, the old standards were just the thing. As Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and other crooners familiar to Mom’s age group sang about love and happiness, some clients even were able to sing along. The music soothed and lifted spirits.
I know I feel better when the words to a song I learned decades ago escapes from some file in my brain. And music is always my go-to medium when I need to calm myself, pump myself up, or dance around the room. It stimulates parts of the brain that activate pleasure and even downright joy. It’s got those healing powers! So turn on the iPod, Jambox, or crank up the stereo–though research is extending music’s muscle, we’ve known about its attractions since our early ancestors beat on a makeshift drum or discovered the flexibility of the vocal cords. ENJOY.
Thanks to Google Images and Dr. Steven Eisenberg