IMAGINE Magazine-Spring2016 - Page 21

effectiveness lies in the manner in which music enters our brain in the first place and leaves a neurological imprint that attaches itself to emotion, thought and movement. Neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sachs explains, “Music has the ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus. It seems to be a cultural invention which makes use of parts of the brain developed for other purposes. Not only auditory parts, but visual parts, emotional parts, the lower level of the cerebellum base which correlates to coordination.” Incredibly enough, these parts of the brain that are quite receptive to and affected by music are the last parts of the brain to be affected by dementia. Thus, meaningful music that is correlated to memories can serve as a key to unlocking the forgotten past and re-establishing a sense of identity. Dr. Connie Tomaino of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function says, “By exciting or awakening those pathways, we have a gateway to stimulate and reach somebody who is otherwise unreachable.” A common reaction to the confusion and forgetfulness of dementia is to retreat inward and away from surroundings, especially within a nursing home type setting; music stimulation can lift a patient out of their shell of confused isolation. There are also more preventative cases where musical engagement has shown to slow down the progression of dementia, allowing people to prolong their normal life at home. Today, there are about 5 million people in the United States suffering from dementia, and that number is projected to potentially double by 2050. The truth is that at some point, many of these people will be put into nursing homes that are failing to meet some very important human needs. Imagine living your entire life with the freedom to make your own decisions, to be with the people you love, to go where you want to go, and sometimes quite suddenly, that autonomy is gone. Basic aspects of daily living are set in stone, leaving little room for improvisation and spontaneity. This imposed routine in conjunction with the confusion caused by the disease itself, is a recipe for an inward retreat that becomes increasingly difficult to break out of as time goes on. “Music can create spontaneity that you cannot create in an institution. It takes you to a place where you can leave the regimen and go off into a world that you create and you connect with on your terms,” says Dr. G. Allen Power, MD. Beyond the obvious necessity of food, shelter and clothing, these are deeply personal human needs that are essential for the wellbeing of patients. Unfortunately, implementing an alternative, nonpharmaceutical solution that clearly demonstrates relief from suffering and that can be explained scientifically, is an uphill battle for Dan. Perhaps this is because, in many ways, the United States healthcare system holds a very narrow view of the patient and the treatment of choice often is the one where drug companies have much to gain. According to Dr. Bill Thomas, MD, “Our healthcare system imagines the human being to be a very complicated machine that we’ve figured out how to turn the dials on. We have medicine that adjusts the dials. We haven’t done anything to touch the heart and soul of the patient. What we are spending on drugs that mostly don’t work dwarfs what it would take to deliver personalized music. The real business is in the pill bottle, trust me.” In our overdependence on prescription drugs, have we lost the ability to seriously entertain other treatments and evolve our system for the wellbeing of our citizens? Alive Inside ties all of these points together and leads viewers towards a basic question: “What does it mean to be elderly in America?” In a society that values youth, sex and productivity, do we genuinely care about people who are physically deteriorating, no longer able to keep up in a “put-yourhead-down-and-go” environment? Do we believe that seniors’ lives are precious and that they have valuable experiential wisdom to offer? And if so, do we take the time to listen? These are important questions to ask ourselves as a nation, but we can also start by reflecting upon our own relationships with older family members and friends. In them we can also see ourselves and the whole of humanity bound together by a natural desire for love in the face of suffering. Alive Inside affords us the opportunity to spend some close-up time with old age, sickness and death— the inevitable facts of life that most people choose not to contemplate. But examining these certainties has the power to awaken our inherent compassionate nature while pressing upon us a great sense of urgency to help everyone live life from that place. Throughout our lives, there is nothing more important to be reminded of. Ryan Zepp is a writer who is passionate about offering personal insight into the many functions and experiences that belong to music. IMAGINE l SPRING 2016 21