By John C. Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

Turning to Tina Turner for transformation


February 1, 2023 | View PDF

John C. Schieszer photo

Sue Trezona, 72, Oregon. She uses music therapy daily for relaxing in her greenhouse, as well as for doing her housework at her home in Coburg, Oregon.

Music therapy now is moving into a new realm thanks to smartphones. A music app has been developed that provides therapy by consoling, relaxing and uplifting users. Music has the potential to change emotional states and can distract listeners from negative thoughts and pain. It has also been proven to help improve memory, performance and mood.

Music and emotions, with an app

Man Hei Law of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and his team have developed what they currently are calling "The Emotion Equalization App". The app creates custom playlists to help listeners care for their emotions through music. Law said music is humanity's universal language and it can significantly impact a person's physical and emotional state.

"We all know life is not always perfect and smooth. And sometimes, we cannot even let go of some thoughts. Through this app, I hope it will take people to a positive mood where they can escape from all negative thoughts," said Law.

The app is designed for individuals who may not want to receive counseling or treatment because of feelings of shame, inadequacy or distrust. By taking listeners on an emotional roller-coaster ride, the app aims to leave them in a more positive and focused state than where they began. Users take three self-led questionnaires in the app to measure their emotional status and provide the information needed to create a playlist.

Current emotion and long-term emotion status are gauged with a pictorial assessment tool that helps identify emotions in terms of energy level and mood. Energy level can run from high, medium, to low, and mood can register as positive, neutral or negative. A Patient Health Questionnaire and a General Anxiety Disorder screening are also used to establish personalized music therapy treatments.

By determining the emotional state of the user, the app creates a customized and specifically sequenced playlist of songs using one of three strategies: Consoling, relaxing or uplifting. Consoling music reflects the energy and mood of the user, while relaxing music provides a positive, low energy. Uplifting music is also positive, but higher energy.

"The most important thing is to enable people to drive their emotion to be more positive by themselves with the app," said Law.

Music as a form of praying

In the Johnny Mathis' online fan clubs, many older adults report that listening to his music is like praying. For 72-year-old Susan Trezona, it is similar. When she was in grade school she took clarinet lessons and discovered how music can change mood, fear and anxiety.

"It takes your thoughts away from wherever you are and takes you somewhere else," said Trezona. "We grew up in a house with show tunes playing through the house all day, along with Frank Sinatra, Eydie Gorme and Dean Martin."

Playing music, dancing and movement activities can aid in maintaining walking endurance, improving range of motion and strength in older adults. Also, playing an instrument as a kid can lead to a sharper mind in old age, according to a study at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The study included 70 adults between the ages of 60 and 83 and researchers used a battery of tests to measure memory and other cognitive abilities. They found those who had played an instrument for a decade or longer scored significantly higher on the tests than those with no musical background.

Trezona, who lives in Eugene, Oregon, said as a child she attended opera regularly and so she learned how different genres can accomplish different things.

"I use music to do housework and bop along with it and sing. I usually listen to Amy Winehouse, Meghan Trainor and PINK. They keep me moving," said Trezona, a nurse-midwife who has delivered more than 3,000 babies.

When she is having a difficult day or feeling anxiety, she finds listening to music and spending time in her greenhouse is like going to church. Trezona said music is magical in its ability to lift her spirits.

"Music makes you feel like you are with people and it gets you moving. I almost always have music on. The beat makes me feel happy," she said.

Rejuvenating your journey with Joni Mitchell

Research shows that music activities, whether it is listening or making music, can influence older adults' perceptions about the quality of their lives. Andy Nahas is the founder and executive director of MusicPower. The organization offers financial and analytical support to organizations and individuals using music as a tool for solving societal problems, boosting happiness levels and empowering young and older adults.

He said although everyone understands the importance of music, its application to quality of life issues is greatly underappreciated. Relatable popular music instruction for economically challenged youth, a choir for the homeless, an orchestra for refugees, and professional style concerts at nursing homes are examples of initiatives which are far too rare, according to Nahas.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can address a variety of healthcare and educational goals, such as promoting wellness, managing stress, promoting physical rehabilitation and more.

"The term 'music therapy' refers to the formal, scientific approach to the use of music for improving certain outcomes. I can't really speak to that, but I can tell you that musical entertainment, if it's engaging enough, is one of the most powerful ways to increase happiness levels in elders. This should come as no surprise, as this is true for non-elders as well. It's unfortunate when elders simply don't have as much access to professional entertainment compared to the rest of us," said Nahas.

Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a study with 30 depressed people over 80 years of age and found that participants in a weekly music therapy group were less anxious, less distressed, and had higher self-esteem. Involvement in participatory arts programs has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, physical health and social functioning in older adults, regardless of their ability.

"There is a song called 'Music is the Doctor,' by the Doobie Brothers. The words include 'music is the doctor. It makes you feel like you want to.' That song is about changing how you want to feel and it is so important to know music can be a great tool for redefining things," said Trezona.


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