Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Music and Behavior Modification

When I was growing up, my parents were not fans of my doing homework with the radio on. Of course, I know that a radio is almost an anachronism but in those days, a household generally had just one television and radios were used quite a bit. They would have been apoplexic had I proposed doing my homework in front of the tv, but even the radio was dubious until I proved to them that I could actually study quite effectively with the radio on.

Now, granted, the choice of music and the volume at which it is played has a big impact on my ability to concentrate. I have also noticed how music or the lack thereof is very influential in my workouts. I have a rowing playlist and a cycling playlist. Both I created in an effort to use music to help me keep up my speed and rhythm. I've noticed a big difference in the effort I put forth when there is music that pushes me along.

In the past several months, there was an article in the NY Times Magazine (I think) about some research being done with elderly patients who exhibit dementia. As I recall, these patients improved significantly when put in an environment that closely approximated their environment as middle aged adults, complete with period specific music. It was very interesting. I've noticed, anecdotally, that when I'm driving, if there is alot of traffic or the traffic is both fast and complex, then I need music to help me focus. If the road is boring and I'm in danger of nodding off, then I need music to keep me alert.

I've just been wondering if maybe we might want to consider a more systematic use of music in various contexts. What about using music to help students focus, in classrooms. Or using music in prisons, to create a peaceful and harmonious environment. Usually, when I have to have an MRI, I'm given a choice of music so that I stay diverted and calm during the procedure. I see that we use music in many ways, but i'm wondering how systematic it is. I'm also wondering if there are studies that examine the role of music in learning, in athletic activities, in depression or mental illness, in medical procedures. I have a hunch that our society may benefit from a more systematic and intentional use of music in various types of circumstances.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The conversation re death

With one's kids it just might be easier to talk about sex as opposed to death. Maybe not. But it is a tough question. On Twitter today there were some posts about the value of talking about death. Also references to Ezekiel Emmanual's piece in the New Yorker a few months ago in which he stated that the ideal age to die is 75 and that he plans to forego health care in the form of curative measures and screening tests once he reaches 75. That was my understanding of what I read. Also saw a reference to Dr. Atul Gawande's Being Mortal . There is an interesting book written by Dick McQuellon and M.A. Cowan, Turning Toward Death Together: Conversation in Mortal Time. I have read the McQuellon/Cowan book and it is excellent. I plan to read Dr. Gawande's book soon. And no, I don't have a morbid interest in death, but I do find it interesting. And I find the difference in how various cultures approach death quite curious. More on that later. I used to volunteer for hospice and enjoyed being with the people whose caregivers needed a break for an hour or so.

There are two things that bear mentioning after my own brush with death. The cardiologists corrected the residents who said that I almost died, saying, "no, she died". Well, maybe splitting hairs, but yes. Truly a miracle patient in that I did come back. So, what I find quite strange is how few people asked me about that experience. I gave people I thought might be interested an opening. After an experience like what I went through it was hard not to talk about it quite a bit, but I never went into the details of what I experienced save with  a handful of very close friends and family. But very few people exhibited any kind of curiosity. I would have answered if they had asked. But they didn't.  They did ask lots of other questions. Was I going to sue the doctor? Do I need a pacemaker? No to both. But people I thought would ask never did.

The second thing I found curious was how much I appreciated life afterwards. I still do. I thought I did before, but getting a second chance completely changed how I approached life. I thought I loved my life before and I did. But now, I don't wait. I really try to prioritize what's important and focus on those things. Very little bothers me now. I liked volunteering for Hospice and it is a great organization, but I just had to re-orient my life around other things and interests. But it is like I appreciate life in neon, flashing lights!

I don't think I completely agree with Ezekiel Emmanual at this point, but I need to think about it some more. In my case, the doctors could easily have stopped the CPR sooner. I could easily have awakened as a vegetable. I was incredibly lucky to survive basically intact. And there are 75 year olds who are active and contributing to society well and continue to do so for years to come. There is great wisdom that comes from the experience of living many years. Or there can be great wisdom. So I'm not sure. I do think we need to talk about this more. What do you think?