Study investigates whether music therapy reduces stress in cancer patients

Published on February 19, 2013 at 9:20 PM · No Comments

A Saint Louis University Cancer Center pilot study is investigating whether music affects the health of cancer patients by soothing them and making them less anxious.

"We can see that some of our cancer patients who are undergoing treatment are showing signs of stress because their blood pressure is higher and respiration rate and pulse is faster than normal. Our goal is to see if music can help bring those vital signs into a more normal range," says Crystal Weaver, SLU Cancer Center's music therapist and a study co-investigator.

"There are a lot of reasons cancer patients feel anxious when they come in for treatment. They may be dealing with unpleasant side effects of medications, such as hair loss or nausea. Sometimes they are thinking about how their illness impacts their family and finances and their ability to continue working. We want to find the best way to use music, which may not cost as much as other therapies and has no negative side effects, to help reduce their anxiety."

The study looks at three groups of cancer patients - those who hear live music performed during chemotherapy infusions; those who receive music therapy in their hospital or exam rooms; and those who do not have music as part of their treatment.

Researchers will measure the study participants' body responses - blood pressure, pulse and number of breaths taken per minute - and note their answers to a questionnaire developed by psychologists to detect stress. For those patients in the music groups, measurements will be taken before and after they hear music while they are receiving treatment.

Some study participants will hear musicians from the St. Louis Symphony, SLU School of Fine and Performing Arts students and Maryville University music therapy students, who play music in SLU Cancer Center's infusion room.

Others will be able to choose the music they want to hear during a one-on-one session with a music therapist.

"Patients request anything and everything - country, religious, musicals, music that was popular when they were in their teens and 20s. I take the music they like and play it at 66 beats per minute because previous research shows that tempo helped well adults relax," Weaver said.

"A pulse of 60 to 72 beats per minute is considered normal and we're hoping to match our study participant's pulse to the beat of the music. Once the heart rate begins to slow, the patient is more likely to take deeper, slower breathes and his or her blood pressure could drop to a healthy level."

The phenomenon of synchronizing the rhythm of the music to a patient's heart beat is called entrainment. It occurs when one person matches the pace of another so they can walk together or when the pendulums of two clocks near each other swing in the same motion.

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