Not long ago, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California hosted 54 special visitors. On arrival, these guests were escorted to a gallery closed off to other museum visitors. In this private and easy to navigate area, they were given an hour-long tour led by gallery staff, focusing on five pieces of art. Rather than lingering on the history of each piece, the tour leaders were instructed to focus on drawing out what these guests were experiencing as they viewed each piece.
This day at the art museum was orchestrated by, and the brainchild of, the folks from the school of medicine at the University of California, Davis. The goal was to see if experiencing art in a social context might help ease the pain of chronic pain sufferers. Could the subjective experience of beauty in art help either reduce pain or take their minds off their discomfort?
Before and after the tour, researchers asked participants about their pain levels, as well as whether they felt socially disconnected. Previous research has linked physical pain with social disconnection. Of the participants, 57 percent reported pain relief after the tour. Most of them reported feeling less unpleasantness due to pain and most reported feeling less socially disconnected.
The authors of the study admit it was not a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how viewing art in a museum setting might directly reduce pain or feelings of disconnection. The intent was to see if an aesthetic experience which includes a sense of meaning, inspiration and connection can produce relief similar to an analgesic drug. More studies are necessary, but the researchers believe many places beyond museums hold the potential to facilitate a similar positive result.
In fact, new independent research on dementia patients by the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at Leiden University Medical Center show just that. Exposure to music therapy seems to improve depression and anxiety in dementia patients.
Researchers found that music therapy might also improve emotional well-being among those with dementia. It is also believed that music therapy can be a tool used to improve social interaction. According to Reuters News, those in the study had dementia of varying degrees of severity. The majority were residents in institutions.
The Leiden University Medical Center study point out that the areas that process music in the brain overlap with the emotional areas, as well as those that process language. Other research involving healthy volunteers shows that music taps into the reward centers of the brain.
Although the benefits of music therapy were not considered large, those conducting the study point out that small effects are valuable. Small improvement or even maintaining a certain level where a decline is expected is a very important outcome for people with dementia and those caring for them. According to the report, the alternative to these behavioral interventions are drugs with black box warning labels saying that the medication increases the risk of death.
Since as far back as the 1600s, science has viewed physical, measurable matter as the only suitable topic for scientific, scholarly inquiry. Dismissed was the idea that subjective emotions and beliefs influence the physical body. Even in the modern world, the medical community has been slow to embrace current evidence-based approaches to studying the social and psychological aspects of care and adopting a more neuroscientific perspective to health.
In "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body," award-winning science journalist and bestselling author Jo Marchant explores many of the reasons why the mind's ability to heal the body is only now being taken seriously by scientists.
In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Marchant points out that the majority of clinical trials are funded by giant pharmaceutical companies. This dynamic, aided by hefty consultant fees paid to doctors, contributes to a medical system that prioritizes the prescription of drugs. It does not necessarily always lead to the best outcomes for patients. This is clearly the case when it comes to conditions such as pain, a bodily disorder strongly influenced by social and psychological factors.
It is also why the studies I've mentioned examining the influence of art and music as a treatment for pain and dementia are small and mostly observational. There is very little funding allocated for such research. Drug companies are not exactly lining up to champion therapy approaches that might allow some patients to cut back on medications, or to perhaps skip them altogether. It is contrary to the commercial imperative of an industry with domestic sales of prescription drugs, excluding generics, projected by Pharmaceutical Commerce to reach $1.006 trillion by 2022.
Meanwhile, according to analysis released by nonprofit health research and consulting institute Altarum, the cost of the country's opioid crisis alone is estimated to have exceeded $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017, and is projected to cost an additional $500 billion by 2020; costs this country will shoulder. As to the human toll, this remains a cost beyond measure.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.