Music Therapy Improves Breathlessness and Fatigue in COPD

Weekly Music Therapy Helps Those with COPD

Reason for the Study: Many of those with COPD are socially isolated. As a result, they are less physically active, are “out of shape,” and may have symptoms of depression.  The researchers proposed that music therapy would improve breathing difficulty, psychologically well-being, and quality of life. Study: Researchers from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City studied a total of 68 patients with moderate to severe COPD. Age of the subjects ranged from 48 to 88 years. The study lasted 6 weeks. It was published in the December 2015 issue of the journal Respiratory Medicine, volume 109, pages 1532-1539.
  1. Study Group: Weekly therapy sessions included live music, visualizations, playing a wind instrument (like the horn, trumpet, or flute), and singing using breath control techniques led by certified music therapists. Subjects were encouraged to choose their own music and to be active in therapeutic activities.
  2. Control Group: Standard care (continuing current treatments)
Singing Group

Singing Group

Results:  Those in the Study Group reported improvements in depression symptoms and “mastery” of their COPD along with reduced levels of shortness of breath and fatigue compared with the control group.
Dr. Jonathan Raskin, Medical Director, Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai Beth Israel

Dr. Jonathan Raskin, Medical Director, Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai Beth Israel

Comments: Coauthor Dr. Jonathan Raskin added that, “Music therapy has emerged as an essential component to an integrated approach in the management of chronic respiratory disease.” Dr. Raskin suggested that such therapy combined with participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program may provide additive benefits in the management of COPD. Listening to music can release endorphins into the body. This may contribute to the “good feelings” that individuals report while listening to or singing songs, and playing an instrument. I encourage you to watch the YouTube video below of the late Fred Knittle, then 83 years young singing the song “Fix You” as part of the Young@Heart chorus. He originally rehearsed this version of “Fix You” with his best friend, but his friend passed away before the performance. Fred decided to perform alone, aided by oxygen. You won’t forget this video.  

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.