When Veronica Sites lay in a coma after a difficult pregnancy, she was aware of her surroundings, she was just unable to respond to them.
“I was very aware,” the Burleson-based therapist and speaker said of the experience.
It’s not uncommon for patients in a coma to be aware of sounds and voices. Doctors say in some cases patients might have some imperceptible brain activity while in a coma that allows them to perceive their surroundings, and in some cases patients claim to have recovered from the coma because of an outside stimulus like music.
In a recent story out of the UK, for instance, a 7-year-old girl reportedly recovered from a coma after hearing her favorite Adele song. According to an NBC report, the girl smiled when she heard the song.
Doctors speculated the music proved a salient stimulus — the music stimulated an emotionally charged memory that stood out to the girl because the brain tends to process highly emotional memories differently than it does other memories, according to the report.
Music bringing people around from a comatose state isn’t isolated. The late disco-era pop star Robin Gibb reportedly awakened from his coma when his family played music for him, according to the NBC report, which wasn’t surprising given Gibb was a professional musician working with his brothers in that profession.
Music, according to the report, “causes a reaction because the brain processes songs differently than spoken language. In these cases, the region of the brain responsible for song might be working better while the language lags behind.”
In general, Sites said music positively affects brain chemistry and can soothe mood.
When exercising, for instance, the brain releases mood effecting chemicals such as dopamine, as well as endorphins, and if you exercise to music, the music can elevate the release of such feel-good chemicals.
Others have noted in research that listening to music when exercising can help people go a little further in their routine to achieve fitness goals.
Neuroscientists know music stimulates the production of dopamine and is good for stress release. Sites said some therapists will play soothing music while with clients, introducing it to calm and relax them.
But, not all music is for everybody, and depending on its style, Sites said, could induce stress and become a source of aggravation or anxiety.
Song lyrics can also be problematic, she said. Even if the music is soothing, if the lyrics are negative that can affect the way the brain interprets the music.
Though Dr. Joe Martin of Cleburne Eye Clinic doesn’t play music in his exam room, it’s possible you’ll see him in the clinic’s lobby playing a song — usually a classic hymn — on a grand piano at the request of one of his patients.
“It’s fun to play up there,” he said. His biggest request is favorite hymns.
Since 1972, Martin has played piano at Field Street Baptist Church and loves music. He understands its health value as well.
“Music definitely sets a mood,” he said. “It definitely has an affect on all of us.”
Even babies, as they begin to recognize sounds, begin to bop to music, moving to its rhythms early on, he said.
At the clinic, classical music is piped into the lobby and waiting room and Martin said many patients say the music helps them relax.
Baroque-style classical music with its 60 beats per minute seems especially soothing, he said. Research has shown classical music tends to lower blood pressure.
His fellow partners at the clinic seem to agree music is good. Besides having music playing in the clinic, colleague, Dr. Heath Bullard, was the one who suggested the piano, Martin said, as much for ambience as for playing.
Martin, who began playing piano in junior high, also keeps the first piano he ever owned — a gift from his parents — at the clinic.
For him music is a source of relaxation as well as a form of worship.
“I like all types of music,” he said, though he gives a strong nod to the classic hymns as favorites.