Wellness Wednesday: The healing power of music

Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-01 18:45:48-05

MURRAY, Utah - There may be, “No Place Like Home,” but sometimes we may find a family member or loved one making the hospital home, at least temporarily. That is why Intermountain Medical Center has found ways to bring a feeling of home to our patients as well as those visiting – through the power of music.

Earlier this year the hospital added a baby grand piano to the lobby, thanks to kind donations from volunteers. It’s also the volunteers who sign up to come and play and if no one’s available, it can be programmed to play automatically.

Intermountain Medical Center administrator, Blair Kent, says, “Every time you walk past, you can see people react to it — whether they sit down and listen or just smile as they go past. The music touches people, it’s beautiful, soothing, and starts the process of healing the minute people walk in our doors.”
Neurologist have long known that music is processed differently than language or other sounds in the brain. Doctors have seen this firsthand from stroke patients who in some cases can’t talk but can still sing.

“In those cases, it often becomes the patient’s method of communication for the near future as they start the hard work of healing their brain,” said Dr. Kathleen McKee, neurologist at Intermountain Medical Center. “So that’s a big clue that music is processed through different circuits.”

New research has given doctors a different understanding of the brain and how it works. Instead of functioning being separate, there are circuits running in nearly all parts of the brain. This research indicates that music is associated with neural connectivity patterns rather than a one-to-one mapping to single brain structures.

Music doesn’t make everyone happy, but it does make some people very happy. Neurologist can show this by seeing the parts of their brain associated with emotion light up when listening to music. At the end of the day our mood is controlled in a complex way by these neural circuits and by neurotransmitters that doctors don’t completely understand. Music can turn on these ‘happy’/’joyful’ circuits and neurotransmitters for people and so in that way can serve as therapy.