Can music be used to treat a patient? Dr Madhukar was surprised to learn the answer when he tried music therapy at a rehabilitation centre for patients with mental illnesses.
Music, as we all know, transcends boundaries, language, colour, nationalities. It’s a universal language, which strikes a chord in all of us. It has the power to take us to a different level all together making us forget the surroundings and about ourselves. Music gives expression to our innermost thoughts and feelings in a very effective manner.
Music and the brain
What we know is that the right side of our brain is more musically inclined than the left. When we hear something which is pleasant, the blood flow to the brain increases. It also causes release of several neurotransmitters, which elevate our mood, make us feel happy and relieves stress. Music also triggers our memory areas, which bring back old memories. This is particularly true and helpful for people suffering from a decline in memory due to conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
We always say that we take the interest from our parents. If we are encouraged to listen to and learn music from a very young age, it improves our personality and our ability to handle difficult situations.
My personal journey with music
My own love for music started at a very young age. In the beginning, it was mainly popular film songs that interested me. Later on, I experienced a radical shift towards the Indian classical music.
I remember during my MBBS days, my small radio always accompanied me, even during the toughest of exams. Somehow it seemed to have had the power to help me sail through the difficult periods.
After completing my post graduation, I started learning the violin, which I continued even after going to the UK.
Today, my busy schedule doesn’t allow me to continue practising, so I at least like to listen to it on a regular basis. At home, we started singing bhajans on the weekends, which was well received by our relatives with enthusiastic participation.
One day, we chanced upon some Kannada karoake CDs, which opened a new chapter in our music and two years ago, we started the Sangeet Karoake Club in Bangalore.
Music as therapy
We were waiting for an opportunity, then had the thought of trying music in a Rehabilitation Centre where I am a consultant. What we saw was overwhelming. The residents, mainly long-term patients, many with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, who had no motivation or interest in activities began to come on stage and danced to the songs.
They also sang songs, making it a great learning experience for us. We heard from the counsellors how much they had rehearsed for the programme. It was a truly satisfying day for all of us. That prompted us to contact more psychiatric rehabilitation centres.
Before conducting a session, we also do some homework. We ask for the participants preferences, mainly from a language point of view. The age of the residents also helps us in choosing the appropriate era of the songs, which helps them to relate better. We encourage them to take the floor to dance and sing in front of others. That gives them enormous confidence to face the crowd.
We once had boy with Down’s syndrome who is trained in all forms of dancing. To watch him perform to the popular numbers really got the audience going, and helped them to break their inhibitions.
So far we have performed at more than 15 places. We have received very good feedback from all the professionals involved with a request to keep it a regular event. The goal has been to “enjoy, entertain and encourage”, which is what music is all about.
We have seen people with all types of illnesses who seemed totally involved. We next plan to perform in centres for dementia, old age homes and also homes for terminally ill patients.
Music therapy is like yoga, relaxation and meditation. The benefits are probably the same. No one form of music better than the other. What matters is what you like and enjoy.
A regular music time will help you relax, think and live healthily happily.
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