How art can heal

During his meeting with members of the Create the Vote Coalition, gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick called our attention to a fascinating book: 2009’s “Transforming the Healthcare Experience Through the Arts.” Berwick wrote the Forward for the book, which was authored by hospital executive Blair Sadler and Annette Ridenour, an artist/designer who work for a healthcare arts consulting firm.

The book documents the ample evidence showing the many health benefits of exposure to the arts for patients―and their family caregivers―of all ages, in both clinical and outpatient settings. In increasing numbers, art and music therapists―along with other working artists―are becoming integral players in the delivery of quality holistic healthcare across the country. The movement is becoming so integrated into the arts, for example, that when Berklee School of Music announced last month that it will begin offering graduate degrees at its flagship campus in Boston, one of the two new programs set to launch in the fall of 2015 is a Master of Arts in Music Therapy. As the announcement describes it, the music therapy program aims to provide “advanced instruction for practicing music therapists as it pertains to the burgeoning holistic approach to treating patients.”

“Transforming the Healthcare Experience Through the Arts” cites more than 14 studies showing how the arts can produce positive outcomes in healthcare. Patients on a trauma and orthopedic ward experienced shorter stays and required significantly less pain medication after being exposed to visual art and live music. Patients with Parkinson’s disease who participated in 20 sessions of tango dance classes showed significant improvements in balance and mobility compared with peers who performed conventional exercise. Adult cancer patients who took part in art therapy sessions reported significant decreases in a host of symptoms common to their condition: pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, lack of appetite, and breathlessness. 

“Transforming the Healthcare Experience Through the Arts” also includes an array of case studies from around the globe detailing the success of arts programming in the healthcare setting. One example, from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, documents the experiences of Dr. Amir Lahav, a musician and rehabilitation scientist. Working with a team of doctors from Boston University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Lahav developed the Virtual Music Maker, a computer-based auditory feedback device that translates movements into sounds that helps stroke victims recover their motor functions.

Sadler and Ridenour recount how Lahav wondered whether music might help patients persevere through multiple―and often frustrating―treatments that require very precise rehabilitative movements. With Virtual Music Maker, patients create their own music while performing their exercises. For example, a stroke patient working on regaining hand motor function might be required to perform certain therapeutic hand movements in order to keep a musical selection playing, or to create a new melody or to change the music’s volume.

So did the Virtual Music Maker make a difference? In a small pilot study, patients using the device achieved hand movements “that were more controlled, coordinated, and purposeful than those of patients receiving traditional nonmusical therapy,” Sadler and Ridenour reported. They also experienced higher self-esteem and a better quality of life.

“Overall the music making group were all highly motivated to continue with therapy and even considered the possibility of taking music lessons,” Lahav told the authors.

“Transforming the Healthcare Experience Through the Arts” ultimately presents hard evidence of what many of us have always known: the arts are good for our health.

To read Berwick’s Forward to the book, click here.

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commented 2014-07-31 06:10:52 -0400 · Flag

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