Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Let Thy Music Be Thy Medicine

I have always loved music. It has been my constant companion throughout my life from as far back as I can remember. It has deepened my entire life experience and brought colour to my life. Studies have shown that engaging in musical activities not only shapes the organization of the developing brain but also produces long-lasting changes even after brain maturation is complete. For example, those who frequently play a musical instrument are less likely to develop dementia compared to those who do not, revealing that music works not only to train the brain, but also to protect cognitive functioning.
Dr Sharon Chong is an accomplished musician

Last weekend, I attended a talk held at a local hospice on the use of  music as a complementary medicine. The speaker, Dr Sharon Chong, is a pretty medical doctor and accomplished musician.  She has combined her medical knowledge and passion for music to spearhead the development of music as a therapy in Malaysia. To this end, she has set up the Malaysian Society for Music Medicine and she is the Proterm President.

Although music was used as a healing agent in indigenous cultures throughout time, it has become widely recognized internationally as an evidence-based approach in the care and treatment of challenging clinical problems. 'The many fields which benefit from music therapy are Alzheimers disease and dementia, Parkinsons disease, stroke, depression, anxiety,  cancer and also coping with end of life. Listening to music from 45 to 60 beats per minute helps synchronise heartbeat and reduce anxiety. It slows down breathing and  helps quieten the mind. Watch this video of how music therapy helped a breast cancer patient relax and gave her a welcome respite in dealing with the disease.

With sprouting evidence on how music affects our bodily systems, the belief that music plays a supportive complementary role in various clinical settings has been much researched upon. In the aspects of hospice and palliative care, numerous studies have shown positive effects of music therapy. Therapeutic goals are aimed not only on the patients but hospice caregivers and family members as well, particularly in improving communication and assisting emotional expression. Music can ameliorate pain, and symptoms of fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, agitation, sleeplessness and labored breathing while enhancing mood and overall feelings of comfort and sense of control. At the end stage of life, music can play a role in helping patients and famillies cope.

Music therapy is administered by certified music therapists after assessment of the individual patient's conditions, inclinations and cultural background  Thus, it is prescriptive and maybe active with the patient playing an instrument or singing along. A variety of instruments can be used from the guitar, harp or any local musical instruments as well. In  patients with advanced conditions who are unable to sing or play instruments, it is receptive or passive. Patients with Alzheimers disease who cannot remember their loved ones were able to respond well to the music they loved. Watch this interesting video of  Betty Friedman

In the western world, music therapy is used widely in hospitals while in Malaysia,  it is still in its infancy stage. There are seven music therapists in the country and not all are practising. Of those practicising, there is strong emphasis in the paediatric field, especially helping with children with special needs such as autism. Singapore is more advanced with more than 20 music therapists whilst  Indonesia brings in foreign therapists to educate their people.

As medical technology becomes even more advanced, its practitioners recognize that there is suffering that eludes even the most sophisticated medical treatment. Many physicians and caregivers welcome music vigils as an integral form of care that offers an opportunity for relieving suffering and bringing comfort. The time may have come for caregivers to consider it seriously in view of its many benefits.  However, it also depends on whether the patient has a liking for music. To me, music is food for the soul. When my daughter was a baby, I would waltz around the house with her, in our own little perfect world. Life would never be the same without music.


  1. I like to listen to Chinese oldies.

    My favourite relaxing music is actually keronchong.

  2. CF,

    I shall recommend this article to my daughters, rgds, kokpiew

  3. Hello there. Thanks for writing this wonderful blog. Would you like to contribute an article to the Malaysian Society for Music in Medicine (MSMM) from an audience's perspective about the talk delivered at Kasih Hospice? Heaps of appreciation. You may email to me personally at or to Hearing great news from you soon. Let music be thy medicine ~ Sharon

  4. 音乐陶冶性情