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Bank Austria Salon, Photo: Oreste Schaller


Not Breathless Through the Night


Klaus Laczika is an intensive care doctor at Vienna General Hospital (AKH), but he’s also interested in the question of which music supports healing processes. And he regularly delivers fascinating lectures at the Bank Austria Salon.

In this interview, he explains to you how music affects the body and which melodies are used in this area. And we can say this much: Techno tends to be counter-productive but Helene Fischer can help. The key thing is that a patient has a positive connection with a song.

Klaus Lazcika, Photo: Julia Stix / jammusiclab.com

How can music support the healing process?

We’ve been using music for millennia, but we’ve only been researching the area scientifically for a few decades. In the baroque there was the so-called Doctrine of the Affections, which described which emotions were triggered by music. Composers had to study these learned texts in order to find out how they could use music to generate a jolly, a sad or a buoyant mood. Composers always saw themselves as better doctors, who knew which music worked in which way.

Which music calms?

That’s exactly the question. Music therapy emerged after the Second World War in America and – as we should be proud to point out – simultaneously in Vienna. But back then it was common to play anything in the operating theatre or at the hospital bed, and this makes little sense. Just like there’s a difference between taking a certain tablet against athlete’s foot and against pneumonia.

How does one measure how music has an effect?

This is easy for us on the intensive care ward of the AKH because the patients are already hooked up to monitors. We investigate the automatic bodily functions that aren’t subject to our consciousness. We call this the autonomous or vegetative nervous system, because it functions independent of the will. We measure the variability of the heart rate, the natural variation in the delay between two consecutive heartbeats. When someone’s healthy, the heartbeat changes, they breathe in a little faster and out a little slower. UnderWährend stress, our heartbeat is completely rigid. When we’re recovering, it’s all over the place, sometimes we breathe faster and sometimes slower.

Bank Austria Salon, Photo: Oreste Schaller

So you tend not to use techno?

There are many studies that suggest that techno creates stress. We make an audio-biography for our patients. We ask them or their relatives what they like. We never play something because we think that it’s good. Rather, we play what they prefer to hear, what makes them calm and happy.

This can also be Helene Fischer?

Absolutely, or Udo Jürgens. Anything goes. If we know that a patient loves Helene Fischer, then we’ll find some. The exact psychological term is connotation: If one has a positive association with the music then it helps even more. In my lectures, I always talk about my first ski course. Back then we were allowed to go to the disco when we were 14 and we collected our schillings to give to the DJ to convince him to play “Samba Pa Ti” by Carlos Santana so that we could dance closely with the girls. If I’m ever ill, this is certainly a song that could have a calming effect upon me.

Is music therapy also used with Covid patients?

We’ve just started a new research project at the AKH that is designed to influence breathing. The idea is to invite the body to adapt to the calmer beat of the music. We’re trying to use specially composed, longer musical phrases to help patients who are very short of breath to breathe much more calmly. Firstly, however, they must be free from the ventilator and have a reduced viral load.