Gilles Comeau: What is music and health?
I am Gilles Comeau, I am a professor at the School of Music at the University of Ottawa. I am the founding director of the Music and Health Research Institute at the University of Ottawa, and recently I became a principal researcher at the Research Institute in Mental Health at the Royal, where I am responsible for establishing a research clinic in music and mental health.
There is a lot of research that tends to demonstrate that music can have an impact on several health conditions, on well-being, on mental health. I observed in the report that was published in 2019 by the World Health Organization that approximately 40% of music research had been done with music therapists, and that the other 60% was by musicians, musician-educators, sometimes health people who had music training.
At that time, I knew there was lot of research that had been done with music therapists, that look at how their work was having an impact. And music therapists often work one-on-one, and often see themselves as health practitioners who are working towards helping individuals with certain condition. So I decided at that time to put the focus on musicians and music educators, because a lot less research has been done in that area.
They were already very much implementing their programs in health and social settings, so I wanted to be able to study what was happening and see how I could contribute with better engagement of musicians and music educators, for the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.
Gilles Comeau: On the impacts of music and health and strategies for measuring these impacts
For people who have dementia, it really has an impact on their well-being and quality of life. Because we understand that music is not expected to have a healing impact on Alzheimers condition, but, really has a significant impact on well-being and quality of life. Even for people who suffer from depression and anxiety, it is also about being able to make the symptoms less disturbing, and being able to improve well-being.
So what we do is that we try to measure how it has an impact on their well-being: measure the impact on anxiety, measure the impact on depression, measure the impact on the joy / the excitement of learning new things. And we do also the standard questionnaires that are of often used to measure the various outcomes. There are special questionnaires for people with dementia. There are questionnaires for their caregivers. There are questionnaires for their anxiety level, for their depression level, on flourishing, learning new things, on joy, their quality of joy as well.
Then we also have some biomarkers that we want to use to demonstrate with the different impacts it could have. And that could be some watch that you’re wearing similar to Fitbits that, for a period of time, it shows the blood pressure, heart rate etc. So it will show if the music activity at one point in the week is having an impact on that day, or the day that follows. We will work things like that.
We work with log books on sleep pattern and the self-report on sleep, and it gives us a good indication of how it is affecting their sleep. Sometimes we can do some cortisol level with a saliva test that helps us to measure how things are improving. We also look at the movement that they’re able to do, because a lot of the program we have are music and movement. The movement that they develop is a real indication of how they perceive music and we quickly see how the quality of the movement change within a few weeks. You could also see how well they perceive.
Are they completely off music, are they getting more with music, are they more subtle / supple, so all of that shows a change that we can observe.
Gilles Comeau on his path to work in music and health
I was always passionate about teaching, and I was fascinating about how people learn.
I started to teach music when I was 16 years old, teaching piano to young people but also to little groups of students and preschoolers. I was fascinated with that aspects of teaching music and it has been a constant throughout my life. I was also always in interested in health and helping people, and in my teens I had already started to volunteer by spending time in a long-term care facility. When I came to University, I was helping with the Children’s Aid Society and working with children that were deaf and other children that had severe cases of autism. That was always part of it and then throughout my career at the University, I did a lot of interdisciplinary work with other researchers. It was always part of the work I did to combine those aspects. And looking at learning, looking at teaching, looking at various groups, then looking at musicians health, physical and mental health.
Eventually, I brought together a little bit of all those experiences and passion. I’m bringing back my training in music education and Delcroze, eurythmics, music and movement, or training with percussion improvisations. I’m bringing that back, but into health and social context.
I’m bringing back my interest with those groups of people and I’m also bringing my interest in research and in multidisciplinary research. I’ve had over two decades of experience working in different research culture because every discipline has its own way approaching research.
So it’s very familiar (to) me and I was able to group people from various fields of research to put everything together for that work in music and health.Read More +