Paul Radin, writing about music and primitive peoples, asks “What we should like to know, of course, is the extent to which the actual music, the sounds which issued from drum and rattle and flute and from the human throat, were regarded by either the patient or the practitioner as aiding in recovery”. So apart from how much the patient likes the music, there is also the factor of perceived benefit from it, the familiar placebo effect, though powerful enough in its own right. After all, belief systems play a crucial role in all therapeutic interventions.
In working with an agitated, confused 65-year-old man, Australian music therapist Judy Cooper made him a tape of two songs that repeated over and over. They were two of the most significant songs in his life. The response was relaxation along with focused attention and listening . One can devise more songs so that there is a variety too as otherwise familiarity may breed contempt!
The anticipated response in such prescriptions of course, would depend upon the chronological and regional flavor involved in such music. The distinguishing features are also derived from the type of harmony, tempo, rhythm, melody, timbre, instrumentation, etc.
The autonomic nervous system is known for its sensitivity for pitch. It has been observed that while high pitch generally causes tension, low pitch can be more resonant and relaxing. And yet some musical instruments can disprove such a concept. For instance, low pitch notes emanating from Nadaswaram, the long pipe used in South Indian festivities can sometime cause more tension than the high pitch revelations of a flute. It is therefore essential that the type of instruments can also play a role in arousing or relaxing the mind.
It is a well-known fact that music with a slow, rhythmic tempo can be relaxing. Such music woven in certain patterns such as iterative melodies can arouse feelings of and produce similar effects known as parasympathetic arousal.
Conversely, faster, more complex music can be arousing. As mentioned before, the constitution and the musical background of the listener comes into play as a variable: age, intellect, ethnicity, environment, economy, religion, education, and other personality factors. According to Cook, if the music is familiar and pleasing, it will have a greater effect. In a Swedish study testing different kinds of music as the stimulus, soft, melodious, relaxing and romantic music, often stringed instruments and with consistent tempi and volume, was most successful in keeping the clients seated longer and eating better (Ragneskog 1996)
With love and care involved in selecting the musical pieces, conducive for the elderly, music therapy could prove to be a dynamic approach in the care of people with dementia.
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