Monday, April 19, 2010

Music - are we body and mind alone?

A friend who is a music teacher and I (another music teacher) were chatting this morning. He said that he believed we are mind, body and soul. And our schools do pretty well with the mind (academics) and the body (sports and phys ed). But the soul is often ignored and yet, might be one of the most important parts.

Specifically, when a financial crunch happens within the school system, what is it that is usually first deleted? The music program which apparently many feel is unnecessary.

In my some 50 years of being a violinist and teacher, I have met hundreds of folks who tell me that they studied a bit of violin or organ or piano or trumpet in their youth but gave it up and now are sorry that they didn't pursue the music because they so wished they could play now.

I have never met anyone who continued music and can play now who is sorry they continued music.

But music programs also enrich the mind - thus found several studies over the years. Typically children and adolescents involved in music tend to do better at not only academics but also at sports.

For example in a study reported in 2009, Laurel Trainor, director of the Institute for Music and the Mind at McMaster University in West Hamilton, Ontario, compared pre schoolers who had studied music with those who had not. She found the kids who had studied music had better responses on a test of brain development, suggesting music actually enhances the brain functions. She further noted:

Even a year or two of music training leads to enhanced levels of memory and attention when measured by the same type of tests that monitor electrical and magnetic impulses in the brain.


We therefore hypothesize that musical training (but not necessarily passive listening to music) affects attention and memory, which provides a mechanism whereby musical training might lead to better learning across a number of domains

Trainor said the reason for this might be:

"that the motor and listening skills needed to play an instrument in concert with other people appears to heavily involve attention, memory and the ability to inhibit actions. "

Harvard University researcher Gottfried Schlaug has also studied the cognitive effects of musical training. Schlaug and his colleagues found a correlation between early-childhood training in music and enhanced motor and auditory skills as well as improvements in verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning.

A study published in the magazine, "The New Scientist" suggested that music training can actually boast the IQ scores of children and adolescents!

Read the bios of the valedictorians of the High School classes and you will find that the overwhelming majority of them play a musical instrument.

So even if the happiness music brings us is not considered important, perhaps the powers that be will consider that encouraging music training will likely cause the participating students to get higher scores on the AIMS and/or Iowa tests also!

My friend and I talked about the recent Allstate festival in our state. This is where selected musicians and singers from all the schools are put together into a large chorus, band and orchestra and they practice and give a concert (or two). The result is simply amazing. My friend described it as "hearing the Chicago Symphony couldn't be better than this".

I totally agree with him because the thing I remember most vividly from High School in Chicago was the conference festivals (we had so many music schools and programs in the area that an "Allstate" orchestra might have been too large).

We rode on a bus to another school in our conference, we practiced in the afternoon, and then, the next evening went back to give the concert.

One has never lived until one has listened to (or better yet, participated in) these large orchestras, bands and choruses. A chorus of over 500 High Schoolers singing "The Seven Last Words of David"? I can still hear it, over 40 years later.

Or how about 25 trumpets playing on "The March from Ben Hur". After hearing this rendition, the movie version pales by comparison.

Not withstanding the rich experience of playing under famous conductors and meeting so many other High Schoolers and much more. We all looked forward to these festivals as the high point of the year!

Most people I've talked to, feel the music program in school gave them some of the best times in their lives, studies suggest that participation in music helps people for life and just talk to anyone you meet - everyone loved the music program and no one is sorry for having participated but many feel cheated that they gave up music too early in life!

So why are we always considering cutting the music program. Just consider this - the IPOD's are even more precious to the average teen than their cell phones (or they use their cell phones to listen to music).

We seem to have an inborn desire for music and all evidence suggests it not makes us happier and better adjusted people but actually makes us smarter too. Seems a win-win to me.

So let's consider cutting something OTHER than the music programs! Please! Trust me, your children will thank you for making sure these programs continue!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tysabri for MS - re-visit

I received a comment from "Enjolez" who is listed as having a blog but when you click on the link, it's non existent. The comment used explictives and suggested I didn't know what I was talking about when I wrote about the Multiple Sclerosis "disease modifying" medications, particularly a cancer chemo therapy drug named Tysabri which can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause a deadly type of brain infection called "progressive multifocal leukoencepelopathy" which according to the manufacturer of the medication, causes death or "severe disability".

Enjolez didn't mince words - he or she called me a f-king idiot but didn't bring up any facts to refute my claims. Despite the type of comment, I want to answer his or her issues because it's important that he or she (probably having infusions of this medication) has informed consent.

At a recent MS meeting, I was given a colorful brochure produced by Biogen. Biogen didn't mince words about the possible risks however or the fact that Tysabri hasn't been studied for "use longer than 2 years" (that's on the first page of the booklet). Interestingly enough, the gentleman I talked to, representing the company, really believed in the medication - he told me his wife was on it.

However, when the risk of a medication appears greater than the risks of the disease it is used to treat, it may be a smart thing to consider another type of treatment. Treatment with a medication which even the lax FDA approved with difficulty for MS, a disease which if treated properly is mild in most folks for years, sounds a bit to me, like playing "Russian Roulette".

From the "Safety information" tab in the same brochure from biogen we are informed that

Tysabri is not recommended if you have a medical condition that can weaken your immune system.

MS is a condition that can weaken your immune system all by itself because it's an autoimmune disorder and/or autoimmune/lymphocyte B disorder (the jury is still out on this). In other words, by having this drug infused into you, you could be dealing yourself a double whammy so to speak!

Biogen also warns that Tysabri can cause liver damage.

What many people do not know is that the nature of studying the MS disease modifying medications is such that they are typically studied in people who display "white spots" on an MRI of their brains but have not been formally diagnosed with MS yet i.e. they have no symptoms of the disease. Some of those in the studies cohorts never come down with MS!

Also, the white spots on the brain appear long before serious symptoms appear - progressive or intermittent MS is a mild disorder which takes many years to disable.

Back in the old days, people were not diagnosed until they had the clinical symptoms but now with MRI's, we have many cases of folks being diagnosed with some fleeting mild symptoms (one lady I'm thinking of, had some "weakness in the legs" but not enough to stop her from being in college athletics) and the MRI "white spots" and they are told that the sooner they get "on the medications", the better and because they had no real symptoms in the first place, and they "believe in" the medications, they naturally attribute this good feeling to the medications or the fact that they have virtually no symptoms but perhaps this is only because if they DO have MS, it's an early enough case that they would not have symptoms anyway. (We won't even discuss here, the possible ramifications of a "too early" diagnosis, psychologically which by itself is questionable since the person may never come down with active disease!)

In contrast, those who have a lot of clinical symptoms often do not experience the "help" that the early cases experience. One lady I talked to who was on Tysabri because she'd tried the other medications with no help, said she was disgusted with her neurologist because she'd been on Tysabri a year and no change. However, when I told her it was a risky medication, she shrugged her shoulders and said "Who cares?"

This attitude of doom and lack of knowledge of the nature of MS is, I think, what causes many folks with MS to take unnecessary risks.

I'm back from the 1970's before all the new treatments. Back then, the MS society told us that 10 years after diagnosis (from clinical symptoms), most folks with MS were still walking and many were still working. They advocated a healthy lifestyle with moderate exercise and range of motion moves, healthy eating and "some walking, some sitting, some standing and some lying down".

In my own research, I noticed that folks with MS who did the highly experimental medical treatments even like large doses of steroids, tended to have more disability in the long run. In fact, there were even a couple of studies which suggested that!

With today's "disease modifying medications" for MS, they don't promise patients anything as far as less disability but only (perhaps) less MS flare-ups. In the studies of these medications, "flare ups" are decided totally upon "new white spots" showing up on an MRI since those in the cohort have not formally come down with MS yet.

Our son, the medical provider, tells me that the disease modifiers for rheumatoid arthritis work well. These are also, medications which are not without risks, however, none of them have the risk (however rare) of causing a deadly brain infection like Tysabri.

Perhaps the problem with the MS disease modifiers is that they really don't know that much about the cause of MS i.e. they may know more about rheumatoid arthritis than they do about MS.

A favorite internist told me "neurology really don't understand a lot of these things". Well said.

Informed choice is the only way but that includes looking at the research behind the medication or at least just reading the caveats from the manufacturer. I wonder if the person who called me an "idiot" ever did the latter.

If "Enjolez" will write me privately and give me an email address to write him/her at, I will furnish more information about myself.