Music and Well Being
Several modern clinics, hospitals and operating theatres are discovering the clinical benefits of soothing music and using it not just to make patients feel better, but to improve medical outcomes too.
Many surgeons who undertake nerve racking long critical operations on the brain, heart or liver, ensure that there is music playing in the OT. Surgeries sometime require up to 20 hours during which a human life dangles uncertainly from the surgeon’s hands that are expected to remain consistently and unwaveringly steady. And it is often left to music to ensure they do.
Studies on the effect of music on patients and relatives waiting for surgical or endoscopic procedures have consistently shown that a period of exposure to music in the waiting chamber during the stressful wait significantly reduces heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety levels. This prepares the patient to face the procedure better.
The benefits of music are indeed very real. Researchers have measured levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in the circulation during the stressful waiting periods and found them to be elevated. When they repeated their measurements after a 30-minute exposure to music, these had settled down.
Settling stress is not just about trying to make patients feel comfortable, but ensuring better medical outcomes as well. An anxious patient reeling under stress with a racing heart, elevated blood pressure and high levels of cortisol and adrenaline is more prone to complications during surgery. Further, stress hormones delay healing and increases post-operative complications.
Doctors and hospitals are often stereotyped to look serious, sterile and bland, and music in hospital chambers is sometimes perceived as lacking in seriousness, frivolous, and perhaps distracting. Hospital administrators have therefore often shied away from providing music in hospitals, lagging behind what their counterparts in the airline or hotel industries have tuned into long time ago.
This old perception is fortunately changing. Studies are beginning to show that the less intense and more warm the environment, better are the outcomes. And music seems to play a pivotal role in achieving this.
Much of the high stress levels in society these days that drive us to road rage, anger, fights, high blood pressure, diabetes and predispose us to premature heart disease and death could be linked to the declining habit of music-listening. True, most cars are equipped with good music systems, and cell-phones with ear-plugs often help youngsters get their daily dose, but in the packed schedules of our modern lives, the habit of listening to chants in the morning or the family session in the evenings to listen to Strauss, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Kenny G or Brian Silas has become history in many homes.
A regular schedule or frequent periods of exposure to soothing music, even if we do not actively listen to it, can help us reduce stress. Music is nutrition to our brains, nerves and souls much like food is to our body. A 30-minute session each day could serve as an antidote to the stresses that modern life puts on us.
And if doctors and clinics are beginning to realise the value of music and use it for themselves and their patients, we should ensure that we do not deny ourselves a daily dose in our own individual lives as well.