Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

MUSIC THERAPY and MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS

Lisa A. McCombs
4 min readNov 17, 2022

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I’m not greedy. I’d settle for singular sclerosis; but as long as I’m committed, I’m gonna fight my multiple sclerosis with both feet moving.

My piano adds a quaint touch of class to my living room. It gets dusted regularly and is decorated for each season and holiday change. I admire it often, even if my fingers no longer want to participate.

My musical alternative is singing. I love to sing, even if my cat doesn’t appreciate it. Singing is a physical act that reaps the health benefits of respiratory endurance and facial muscle tone.

Most mornings, I tell Alexa to play one of my favorite radio stations. Leaving the radio on throughout the morning lightens my mood and often encourages random moments of sporadic dancing, chair or otherwise.

Movement is vital to a healthy existence and there is no better therapy than music. Music is a powerful mood enhancer coined as a multivitamin for the brain. Studies show that when multiple regions of the brain light up, a “feel good” response is created.

I love music. All music.

Remember singing the alphabet as a child? This is an example of “musical mnemonics” that exercises the memory bank. As MS Warriors, we are aware of cognitive boundaries. The cadence and repetitive melody of singing is mindfulness at its fullest. Music shapes our attitudes and reminds us to smile.

Weirdly enough, a steady cadence also encourages an improved walking gait. Try it. March in place while counting out loud. One, two, one, two.

There is no “one size fits all” where music selection is concerned. Music is healthy no matter what you tune in to. Whether you’re banging your head to long-hair songs of the 80s or swaying to restorative folk ballads, you can’t lose.

“Multiple sclerosis interferes with communication between the mind and the body. With educational content and videos of music therapy techniques specifically designed for people living with multiple sclerosis, MS in Harmony is a first-of-its-kind offering that aims to help patients and their care partners achieve mind-body harmony through music therapy,” said Tina Deignan, senior vice president and U.S. business unit head for Immunology at Bristol Myers Squibb.

Research suggests that music therapy may be beneficial in terms of the impact it has on both physical and mental function in people living with MS. It may also help address some of the emotional challenges associated with the disease, including depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.

https://www.bms.com/life-and-science/news-and-perspectives/ms-in-harmony-music-therapy-for-multiple-sclerosis-patients.html

According to Deborah Benkovitz Williams, president of the American Music Therapy Association, “In multiple sclerosis, research has shown that music therapy may help improve walking speed and stride, as well as memory and attention, among other things, and realizing these benefits do not require a background in music or any particular talent.” Music stirs human emotion and spurs changes in our brains that can cause powerful sensations and physical reactions. www.msinharmony.com

Music has always played a huge part in my life. I started taking piano lessons in second grade and continued to study the instrument until I started college.

I purchased a piano when I moved into my first big girl apartment. As a newly employed high school English teacher, furnishings were sparse. My great-grandmother’s sleigh bed, a three-legged love seat, a twelve-inch black and white television, and my piano were my only decor. I taught piano lessons as a side gig.

I love my piano. It has moved with me five times. My son practiced his own lessons on the lovely pecan wood instrument. (Until he fessed up and told me he only agreed to lessons to make me happy. After three years, he was DONE, but I had provided my parental duty.)

I sat down at my beloved piano recently and caressed the ivories I used to tickle.

My fingers curled weirdly and refused to perform. The Beethoven composition in front of me mocked my efforts. I really didn’t need the musical score. I memorized Fur Elise years ago.

And it was still there, tucked away in my memory.

I saw the notes in my mind.

My fingers failed to reproduce what had once been second nature to me.

I remembered something a church pianist said to me a few years earlier. She said if I prayed hard enough, my musical gift would be restored.

I assured her I believed in the strength of prayer, but realized no more explanation was necessary. She didn’t get it. God had chosen an alternative path for me to follow, and it didn’t include playing the piano.

When I mentioned possibly selling my piano, my husband looked at me like I finally lost my mind.

“That piano is part of your story. You can’t get rid of it!”

So, as his untouched dirt bike from his teen years collects dust in the garage, my piano remains a reminder of my innocence prior to D-Day.

Lisa, Lady With Cane

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