The Healing Power of Music

Have you ever been down, turned on your favorite song and suddenly everything seemed better? Then you know: Music heals.


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Many ancient cultures used sound and music to heal. Pythagoras called it “music medicine.” In the Middle Ages, music became a mandatory part of a physician’s education. Now there’s a growing body of scientific evidence attesting to music’s curative powers. A study published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons showed that patients who had music therapy during their operations reported 29 percent lower anxiety levels.

In yet another study, researchers in Japan found that opera and classical music actually reduced the rejection rate of heart transplants in mice by influencing the immune system. Music presents a nonthreatening tool for interventions that is already attractive to patients. “Think about how often music plays a role in all of our lives whether it’s in the background at the store or whether it’s in the car,” says Sharon Kurfuerst, senior vice president of administration at Christiana Care. “And who doesn’t like live music?” Christiana Care and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children have taken note of the importance music plays in a health-care setting. Both have partnered with local organizations to utilize music in various ways to help patients, families and staff.

Every Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m. performers from Musicians on Call go room-to-room singing to patients and their families in Wilmington Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitation and Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit. Kurfuerst says the program, which launched in October, has served more than 240 patients. It was brought to the hospital after a staff member experienced bedside concerts when a family member was hospitalized in Pennsylvania. Kurfuerst says the curative power of music is remarkable. She has seen it firsthand in the rehabilitation center and ACE Unit both of which care for patients with complex medical problems requiring extended stays.

“We’ve seen patients looking a little depressed really perk up when the music starts,” says Kurfuerst. “On the ACE Unit, where patients are very elderly and frail, many with cognitive/dementia type issues, we’ve seen patients be able to participate with the musicians when they hadn’t responded to anything prior to that.” Families benefit as well. “Families have problems figuring out how to interact with patients,” says Kurfuerst. “Music is the common denominator. We’ve seen families actually take the opportunity to be here on Wednesday nights with their loved ones to experience that.” Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children has also started a live music program through a partnership with OperaDelaware. “We’re really focused on how we can reduce anxiety and pain for children while they’re here and we want music and the healing arts to be part of that,” says Dr. Paul Rosen, clinical director of service and operational excellence.

The performances have been a respite for parents as well. “We watched families as they went by and just seeing the body language and the smiles on their faces,” he says. “Having a child in the hospital is one of the most stressful experiences you can have, so anything we can do to help we’re open to explore.” Rosen also sees benefits for staff. “Delivering healthcare can be taxing,” he says. “So giving them a break, something beautiful, maybe that positive energy will transform them and that’s something they can bring back to the patients.” And that’s music to everyone’s ears.

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