Listening and learning music has been considered to enhance the power of memory from ancient times. Recitations of prayers such as Vedic recitations with iterative musical structure have helped people retaining their intellect and memory intact till their last breath. In recent years, studies carried out with elderly persons have confirmed that music can be used as an anti-ageing tonic, as it addresses the mind bringing out the cheer and sunshine one tends to lose with advancement in age and due to increasing isolation from the fellow beings one faces.
Music has been found to be an anodyne which soothes and relaxes the elderly person, particularly affected with dementia.
Music that is familiar to the patient has been found to evoke a more positive response than unfamiliar music. The saying that the ‘known devil is an angel in as much as the unknown angel could be feared as devil seems to be applicable in the case of our seniors, particularly with reference to music! The predictability in familiar music does not induce shock or surprises which could be unpleasant for the elderly, who takes resort in secure and safe ambience of the beaten tracks. Unlike the young adventurers, the musical requirement of the elderly is quite different and this has to be understood and appreciated by the younger generation.
While unfamiliar music requires processing and analysis by the brain, which is an unnecessary exercise for the already taxed brain of the elders, this genre of music is badly needed for our young minds, which awaits sensation and adventure at every turn of their existence.
When one listens to a new piece of music (especially a musician) the brain tends to be engaged in analyzing the instrumentation, judging the overall quality, searching for melody, interpreting the words, etc. These are the skills which are likely to be absent in the case of the Alzheimer's patients. Researchers like Winter have shown that a person tends to breathe deeper listening to familiar music or the music which he or she likes. In the Indian traditions, deep breathing is often associated with the monotonous or repetitive mantra rendering, whose musical structure gets stuck over a time.
What, therefore, one finds relaxing or pleasurable could be the other person’s bore.
Musical taste is very individualistic and particularly when there is a generation gap, the chasm seems to be wider at times.
It is therefore necessary to appreciate that despite all the best intentions, a music therapist could falter in prescribing an effectively soothing music, if he or she is not taking in to the musical preference and traditions of the elderly clients.
The background and musical exposure of the clients is therefore an essential feature which cannot be overlooked while prescribing a musical dose.
Numerous studies seek the ultimate answer that would provide a given formula for curative music. While certain elements and factors can definitely contribute to this, the fact remains that other variables too come into play.
Dr T V Sairam, A serving bureaucrat and a writer, is from F/48B, Hari Nagar New Delhi 110064. For any doubts you can contact him at - tvsairam @ gmail. com