By Jane Vail

  1. NEW YORK, Jan 28 (Reuters Health) -- A month-long course of music therapy improved behavior and sleeping problems in a group of Alzheimer's patients, report US researchers. They credit these improvements to increased levels of secretion of the hormone melatonin, which "may have contributed to patients' relaxed and calm mood."

  2. Since ancient times, music has been recognized as a calming agent and an antidote to stress and tension. The new study indicates that listening to music affects the release of powerful brain chemicals that can regulate mood, reduce aggression and depression, and improve sleep.

  3. "Many patients with Alzheimer's disease have behavior problems of aggression and agitation," said Dr. Ardash Kumar, study co-author and research associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida. He told Reuters Health "we wanted to test the theory that a structured music therapy program has a calming effect, and we thought that agitated or aggressive patients with (Alzheimer's disease) might benefit from this natural therapy."

  4. Kumar and colleagues studied the effect of music therapy on the levels of five brain chemicals (melatonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin, and prolactin) that work in combination to influence mental state. "Different areas of the brain are stimulated by certain situations and release chemicals into the blood. We can measure the levels of those chemicals to see which situations promote a sense of well-being," said Kumar.

  5. The study was conducted at the Miami Veterans Administration Medical Center. Twenty male patients with Alzheimer's disease participated in a music therapy program for 30 to 40 minutes five times a week for 4 weeks. As the program progressed, patients became more able to identify with the songs and could request their music preferences.

  6. Blood samples from the group were obtained before the program began, at the end of 4 weeks of therapy, and 6 weeks after the therapy ended. Blood analyses indicated that a significant increase in blood melatonin levels occurred after participation in music therapy sessions and that the increase continued even after the therapy had been discontinued for 6 weeks. Levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine increased significantly after the music therapy sessions but had returned to pretherapy levels 6 weeks after the sessions had been stopped. Levels of serotonin and prolactin were not influenced by music therapy.

  7. Perhaps because of the increased levels of melatonin, the patients who participated in music therapy became more active, slept better, and were more cooperative with nurses.

  8. The study results, which were published in a recent issue of Alternative Therapies, may have broader applications too. "Relaxation with the type of music that calms you down is very beneficial," said Kumar. "To promote a sense of calm and well-being, you can listen to your favorite soothing music when you eat, before you sleep, and when you want to relax. Music therapy might be a safer and more effective alternative to many psychotropic medications. Like meditation and yoga, it can help us maintain our hormonal and emotional balance, even during periods of stress or disease."

    SOURCE: Alternative Therapies 1999;5:49-57.

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