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A woman with white hair listening to music on a set of large headphones while musical notes float around her head.

Sound Off On Music Therapy for MS

I used to think that in order to achieve the greatest focus, I needed to work in complete silence.

Back in the old days, when my children were young and noisy and energetic, that made sense. It could be difficult to string together sentences on the page with the regular interruptions and concerns about unusual bumps in the other room.

Now, the kids are grown and my house is, indeed, super quiet. Mission accomplished!

Over the last few years, however, I’ve learned a few things about myself.

Learning ways to improve my concentration

For one thing: my concentration would improve when I schlepped my laptop to the coffee house in town, plugged in earbuds, and worked while listening to instrumental music or binaural tones (sound frequencies) deemed to bolster my focus.

Separately, I learned just last summer how much I really loved the music choices played on the competitive show, So You Think You Can Dance.

Inspired, I took notes on the show’s music credits. Later, I cued up playlists on a certain radio app on my laptop. When I played these at a low, but discernible volume, I made a third discovery:

How soft music helps me focus

I actually improve my focus and concentration when I listen to soft music while working. Not only that, but I feel a distinct elevation in mood. When I shut down my office every night after a long day’s work, I’m relaxed and happy.

Research supports my observations

You can imagine I was not surprised to read “Continuous 12 min walking to music, metronomes and in silence: Auditory-motor coupling and its effects on perceived fatigue, motivation, and gait in persons with multiple sclerosis”—research that seemed to support my observations.1

Music and walking: recent research

The study, published this month in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, acknowledged that rhythms found in music could help people with MS to walk more smoothly or reduce their fatigue.1

The researchers investigated whether using music or metronome beats could achieve these positive effects if applied during sustained activities and tasks.

Participants in the study (28 were healthy controls, 27 were people with MS) were asked to walk for 12 minutes in three different scenarios:

  • Walking while listening to music
  • Walking while listening to a metronome
  • Walking in silence

The scientists sought to measure the effects of each of these scenarios on perceptions of fatigue (both physical and cognitive), sense of motivation, and quality of gait (walking stride rhythm and control).

The outcomes were encouraging

  • All 55 participants synchronized their movements to both the music and the metronome; however, those with MS synchronized better to music.
  • All participants experienced similar responses in all the scenarios tested, except that healthy controls experienced increasing cadence while listening to music.
  • Ultimately, while walking to music, the people with MS:
    • Perceived less cognitive fatigue
    • Felt more motivated to walk than in the other two scenarios

In the final analysis, the researchers reported that “coupling walking to music could offer novel paradigms for motor task-oriented training in PwMS.”

In other words, a person with MS might better achieve a task if they also listened to music while doing it.

How music could help you live with MS

This small study joins others in suggesting how we could benefit from music therapy.

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals…Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.”2

Research about music therapy

According to related research, music therapy has already been shown to:3

  • Enhance social and communications skills
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Reduce the severity of depression and anxiety
  • Improve sleep
  • Decrease pain perception

Similar research on walking, fatigue, and quality of life in people with MS also indicates that cognitive fatigue—as well as walking speed, distance, and perception—can be significantly improved in those who used rhythmic cues (music, metronomes, or verbal cues) during these tasks and that musical cues are shown to be superior in improving subjects’ quality of life.4

While researching this, I discovered that the Grabski Center, an Israeli treatment facility for people with MS and other motor neuron diseases, is the only one of its kind in the world to offer music therapy for these specific purposes.5

Maybe this idea will catch fire. I know that listening to music as I write this has actually made the whole process easier for me—and even more pleasant!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Moumdjian, L. et al. Continuous 12 min walking to music, metronomes and in silence: Auditory-motor coupling and its effects on perceived fatigue, motivation and gait in persons with multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. Volume 35, Pages 92-99. October 2019.
  2. What is Music Therapy? American Music Therapy Association. Accessed November 21, 2019. https://www.musictherapy.org/about/musictherapy/.
  3. Boiko, E. A. et al. The Potential of Music Therapy in Neurology Using Multiple Sclerosis as an Example. Neuroscience and Behaviorial Physiology. Volume 47, Issue 5, pages 570-572. June 2017.
  4. Seebacher, B. Kuisma, R.. Glynn, A. Berger, T. The effect of rhythmic-cued motor imagery on walking, fatigue and quality of life in people with multiple sclerosis: A randomised controlled trial. Multiple Sclerosis Journal. February 2017.
  5. Tress, L. Unique center uses music to treat multiple sclerosis. The Times of Israel. September 8, 2015. Accessed November 21, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/unique-center-uses-music-to-treat-multiple-sclerosis/.

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