Last updated:December 20, 2012
Include music in your holiday plans with ailing older relatives and you'll all feel a bit better for it. A growing body of research indicates that music really does have healing powers.
Music's good effects are not only psychological. Music seems to have the power to affect the body's metabolic responses, finds a review in the journal Nutrition. The researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston reviewed many previous studies on music's health benefits.
Research in this review and elsewhere show that music can, for example:
Boost the metabolic function, including the immune system. Hearing music reduces serum cortisol in the blood. This can have a wide-ranging impact on chemical reactions in the body, say the Mass General authors. Specifically, they single out music's effect on the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, the sympathetic nervous system, and the immune system. These all govern functions in how metabolism and energy balance are regulated in the body.
Improve recovery from surgery. Studies have shown that post-op patients listening to music required less sedation and medication in recovery, and have shorter hospital stays. Breathing and the heart rate are directly affected. Other research has shown music helps manage pain even in situations such as childbirth.
Improve gastric symptoms. Music can also help lessen cancer-related gastrointestinal systems, noted the report.
Reduce anxiety and depression. These emotional-physical responses are directly impacted by cortisol, so lowering it has a beneficial effect. Stressed caregivers, take note!
Regulate energy. Studies show that faster-paced music inspires us to move more quickly; other, mellower tunes can help induce a more meditative state.
Speed the metabolic recovery from stress. People recover faster after intensive exercise if they listen to music, thanks to increased metabolism and lactic acid clearance during and after exercise.
Provide pain relief. Listening to music does more than distract a person from his or her pain. Music seems to lessen the quality of pain signals traveling up the spinal column.
Stimulate a sense of meaning and self in someone with dementia. Many kinds of music engage people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.
Plenty of reason to give your life -- and that of an aging loved one -- its very own musical soundtrack.