by Lynda Kuckenbrod
by Lynda Kuckenbrod Music truly does transcend the human spirit. My mother is in a nursing home. She has terminal cancer and dementia. Sometimes she knows who I am and others times not. I know who she is and that
Music truly does transcend the human spirit. My mother is in a nursing home. She has terminal cancer and dementia. Sometimes she knows who I am and others times not. I know who she is and that is all that matters.
I have played music all my life: violin, guitar and now the harp. Mom has always enjoyed listening to me play and sharing with her my newly learned songs. So when I go to visit her, often times I will take one of my harps along. Today she had a bit of a chest cold and was under the weather more than usual with sniffing, coughing and trouble breathing.
I sat by her bed and started to play some hymns or new songs, anything that would just entertain her since conversation is no longer an option with her dementia. But I am a Clinical Musician and gradually my fingers fell into a pattern of rhythm and sounds that would help her to relax and breathe easier. I started to play some old tunes, even children’s melodies and then slowed my rhythm. Slowly but steadily she quit coughing, closed her eyes and her breathing starting to keep in beat with my music. I continued to play until I was sure she was asleep and then slipped out of her room.
One of the most useful tools that I use, as a clinical musician is called entrainment. If you Google this, you will find this definition: “A physics phenomenon of resonance, first observed in the 17th century, which has an effect on all of us. Entrainment is defined as the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony.”
What does all that mean? Well here is the example discovered back in 1665 that explains what entrainment is: There was a Dutch scientist, named Christian Huygens, who was working on pendulum clocks. Of course, he noticed that the pendulum would swing differently in both of them. But when they were placed together, eventually the pendulums would swing at the same rate. This was due to their influence on each other.
It works the same way with people and music. Have you ever noticed that listening to music will change your mood, or will make you sleepy, or will get you on your feet dancing? This is entrainment.
In my practice, I will play music, not necessarily a melody, with different tempos to affect body rhythms such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Most heart rates are between 60 to 80 beats per minute (BPM). Playing music within that range will help the patient’s heart rate return to this preferred status. It is quite amazing to observe.
When I first did my clinical work during my training, I was unsure what I would encounter while doing rounds in the local hospital. I was tested when a doctor saw me, in the hallway, and yelled for me. He grabbed me by my shoulders and whispered in my ear, “Go to room 31. My patient is dying.”
I walked into the room to find an elderly woman flailing in bed. A nurse, with tears in her eyes, was holding her hand and petting her head. The patient could not be left alone in this condition. I was only an intern. With eyes wide open and a harp, I sat down and begin to play; incorporating what my studies had taught me. The social worker who had walked in with me soon left. I continued to play. Within 10 minutes, the elderly woman calmed down. Hre body relaxed and she lay back on her pillow. The nurse who was holding her hand whispered to me that she was going to leave for a little while to take a break. After another 10 minutes, the patient was quietly resting. I felt someone looking at me. I glanced away from my patient to find the nursing staff, at the door watching the “miracle” unfold in room 31. Once she was calm, I was called to leave to attend to another patient. It was at that time, I realized the power of sound, of healing, and of intent.
Do not underestimate the power of the small acts of love and kindness; of goodwill and positive intent. These small acts performed by many all over the world have a powerful effect on the well being of each of us. So, if you are having a bad day, try listening to a song and take a moment just for yourself; it will change your outlook and in turn, it will help you change the outlook of others. This is indeed entertainment in action.