Music Therapy with ALS Treatment May Improve Overall Quality of Life, Study Shows

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Incorporating music therapy into standard treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients may improve the patient’s quality of life, according to new research.

The study, “Active Music Therapy Approach In Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Randomized-Controlled Trial,” was published in the International Journal of Rehabilitation Research.

“[T]he sonorous-music and nonverbal relationship (alternative to verbal one) is the core of intervention and can improve communication and emotional expression, facilitating empathetic listening between the patient and the music therapist that results in the therapeutic nature of the intervention,” the authors wrote.

Thirty ALS patients were included in the study to evaluate the effect of active music therapy (AMT) on psychological aspects of the disease including anxiety, depression, and diminished quality of life. Patients had been diagnosed with ALS or primary lateral sclerosis, a mild to moderate disability (ALS Functional Rating Scale-Revised below or equal to 40). All had acceptable respiratory functions, motor ability to use musical instruments, and cognitive integrity.

Patients were then randomly assigned to AMT (music therapy) and standard of care treatment, or standard of care treatment only. Music therapy was composed of 12 sessions (three times a week, for one month). The standard care only group received just physical and speech rehabilitation sessions, occupational therapy, and psychological support.

Psychological outcomes were assessed using several measures such as the ALS Functional Rating Scale-Revised, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and the Italian version of the McGill Quality of Life Questionnaire. Each test was performed at baseline, and then one and two months after the treatment. The music therapy process was evaluated using the Music Therapy Rating Scale (MTRS).

In the music sessions, a music therapist encouraged the patient to interact and communicate using rhythmic and melodic instruments, such as drums, glockenspiels, and xylophones, to facilitate the patient’s emotional expression. The interaction consisted of a sonorous-music improvisation — the patient and the therapist created and shared rhythmic and melodic expressions.

Although the music therapy group and the standard care-only group both presented a general significant improvement over time in psychological outcomes, the music therapy patients improved significantly in the McGill Quality of Life Questionnaire global scores and showed a positive trend in nonverbal and sonorous-music relationship during the treatment. Additionally, the music induced effects were maintained for a longer period compared to the standard care-only group.

“Other studies involving larger samples in a longer AMT [music therapy] intervention (starting from an early stage of disease) are needed to prove the effectiveness of the AMT approach in ALS,” the authors concluded.