It has long been known that music is a very powerful tool for helping people with mobility problems to start moving again, and, indeed, best-selling books have even been written about it, such as Oliver Sacks' "Musicophilia".
In this article, I want to relate my own experiences with "Music-as-Medicine", as a person recovering from Early Onset Parkinson's Disease, as well as to provide my thoughts why music therapy is becoming an ever more powerful concept in the age of digital, mobile sound.
Like many, people with Parkinson's, I had completely stopped listening to music some time before diagnosis. This "closing off" or withdrawal from the world of the senses is one of the running themes which I have found in talking to very many people with Parkinson's. But whenever I see people with other neurological conditions like Alzheimer's on the TV, invariably they seem to be existing in silence, and have forgotten the music that once made them come to life. Even quite recently, I could not recall seeing people with such conditions, as shown in the reality of their lives, with music playing in the background, and certainly never saw them with a personal choice of music, carefully chosen to stir all sorts of memories, being played loud directly in their ears via digital headphones. Thankfully, the profound impact of music on people with neurological illnesses, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is now coming to the fore.
I now know this withdrawal from music was a disaster for me and enabled the rapid progression of the disease. I believe this is the case for many other people with neurological disorders too. In fact, my ongoing research tells me it is a fact that having music in our lives is key to prevent neuro-degeneration! We now know, through very recent advances in brain scanning and monitoring technologies, that music does indeed have the capability not only to light up dormant and dying neurons, but also grow new neuronal connections rapidly. Indeed, it is now evident that music can and does rewire the brain's architecture on massive scales.
I have already written about my own experience and provided extensive evidence on how rediscovering music has been of absolutely massive benefit to improving my own quality of life with Parkinson's, such as my articles:
I have been quite candid in recording the effects on video too.
As we said at the start, these ideas are nothing new. What I do believe is new are the much more powerful and much more available Music-As-Medicine "drugs" and "delivery systems". By exploiting these and developing them fully, in complete conjuction with the new brain scanning technologies in order to really fine tune the therapeutic benefits, I believe we could rapidly usher in the new Science of "Music-As-Medicine".
With the advent of digital HD music comes the new "drugs" in the form of multi-channel music with crystal clarity sound. Now very complex pieces of music, with every subtlety and nuance being audible, can be played directly into the brain. Music which can be adjusted very finely in terms of balances, bass, pitch, volume, etc.
However, more importantly perhaps is the shear availability of music now. The medicine is now "anytime, anywhere". Just go see youtube, which now has virtually every type of music available at the push of a button. For example, you will probably find nearly every song from your past freely available by a quick search of youtube... try it for yourself. Youtube also makes it easy to build your very own "mood music" playlists: to build your own albums-cum-drugstores. Such playlists can rapidly be created and tweaked, each with different themes for accomplishing different tasks. Then they can simply be bookmarked to be available any time with one click. Examples may include self-created albums of specialized music choices, for example to motivate movement, to greatly assist relaxation, to stir memories, or to help emotional releases.
The new generation Music Medicines are therefore truly "designer-drugs" of infinite diversity and infinite combinations, which can be fined tuned and made bespoke down to not only the individual, but also specific needs of the individual. And they can be designed, "clinically" trialled and tested extremely rapidly for efficacy by the individual themselves. These new drugs of choice are therefore a self-administered cocktail of audio "chemicals" made by the sufferer for the sufferer.
There is no pharmacological solution which will ever come close to such bespoke therapies.
However, when someone finds something which works for them, these online technologies allow for sharing of the new wonder drugs with others, so now sufferers of chronic conditions can benefit very directly from the wisdom and experiences of each other. For example, search for "Motiviational Music" on youtube and you can find "courses of treatment" nearly 2 hours long. My experience shows these types of sounds can act a "wonder drug". I have found these absolutely game changing for accessing my movement when in an "off" state, for example.
It is the digital technologies, through which high quality music can be delivered that is, however, that may be truly revolutionary for people with chronic conditions. Now we can carry our drugs of choice around with us where-ever we go, ready to pumped directly into our brains at a moments notice or when the need arises.
Mobile devices can be thought of as mobile music-medicine cabinets or even mobile drug stores. Those youtube "designer-drugs" are now available virtually anywhere, because with the rise and rise of smartphones and tablets, we simply carry around high quality high definition, stereo digital music with us everywhere these days!
The physical delivery systems, the devices which connect the mobile music directly to our brain, which too are becoming ever cheaper and ever better quality. They are also more discrete, more portable, and with bluetooth, are completely hands free and wireless. I myself recently invested in buying this particular set of headphones from Amazon, which you can see me wearing in the video at the top of this post. This investment in a better "drug-delivery system" has been absolutely transformative for me, and represents a step-change in the effectiveness of the music-medicine over the one-ear or stand alone speakers I used before.
Music-As-Medicine As Science
Exploiting the new brain scanning and monitoring technologies, which continue to evolve at a fast pace, will help us to understand which type of music lights up which parts of the brain in which type of people, and to measure resulting neuronal growth over time. So we are now at the dawn of Music Therapy becoming a proper fully-fledged Science.
While certain vested interests will be very resistant to these ideas, I believe if fully embraced and properly funded, this new Science could very rapidly explode into something with such self-evident Healing potentials that it would transform healthcare systems globally.
Designer therapies which would reduce healthcare costs enormously, which have little or no side effects, which are joyful and pleasurable [oh, I can't tell you the joy of movement that music brings to me, I often shed tears of pure happiness when music manages to unlock me completely from my cruel disease - who ever said that about a chemical drug...] and in which, finally, we start to treat people again as individually people, rather than treating the illnesses of patients.