Culture and health across the lifespan – internationell konferens om kulturens hälsofrämjande effekter

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Den 4 maj hölls konferensen Culture and health across the lifespan på Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset – en internationell expertkonferens om den växande kunskapen om att dans, musik och andra kulturformer har mätbara hälsofrämjande effekter.

Kören Voces nordicae gav ett prov på röstens och sångens kraft under konferensen. (Foto: Håkan Lindgren)

Konferensen inleddes med ett tal av KI:s prorektor Karin Dahlman-Wright. Talet kan läsas här nedanför. Mer material – intervjuer, texter och bilder – kommer de närmaste dagarna.



KI:s prorektor Karin Dahlman-Wright
KI:s prorektor Karin Dahlman-Wright

It is my great pleasure to to welcome you all to Culture and health across the lifespan – a broad and promising field of knowledge.

Karolinska Institutet is over 200 years old. We have often told the story of our history, of how the modest training of army surgeons eventually grew into a leading medical university. But if 200 years is really a long or short time depends on the context. Culture, including music, visual arts and dancing, has of course existed much longer.

Homo sapiens is a cultural creature. Throughout history music and other forms of culture have been important parts of human life. But it has long been viewed as just a complement to our lives. The benefits of those activities have not been studied systematically and only anecdotal pieces of information have been available about their consequences for human health and well-being. Systematic studies on how cultural activities and performances may affect human health and well being is an emerging research area and a very attractive one.

The best universities in the world are eager to engage in this subject. Karolinska Institutet is an internationally leading medical university and as such we always want to be at the forefront. It’s our mission to improve human health, and in doing so, we must always strive to be better, always embrace new knowledge and always be generous in sharing what we know with others. Engaging in cultural activities has never been a bad idea. But now that we can actually prove that it can have positive effects on the outcome of a range of disease treatments, the case for more culture at all levels of society is even stronger.

The strength of cultural activities is that they are motivating, often inexpensiveand very accessible to a vast majority of the population. And, unlike some moretraditional treatments, the side effects are purely positive.

Another positive effect of this new research field is that it brings scientists, artists and musicians together. At KI we are firm believers in the added value that can be created when different disciplines and perspectives can meet. Today’s symposium is a great example of that.

Pediatric care and aging-related diseases as well as mental health andrehabilitation are among the first proven areas where culture has shownpositive effects, but I think it’s just the beginning.

We already know of positive health effects of arts including the ability of musicto reduce stress. Through such mechanisms, music can influence the outcomeof our immune defense against infections as well as of inflammation associatedwith for example cardiovascular disease, depression and rheumatic disease. Inthe treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, music anddancing can improve the communication ability of those effected and thuscontribute to improved quality of life.

Due to recent developments it is now possible to make evidence-based statements like: dance slows the progression of Parkinsons disease or listening to music enhances recovery after a stroke. It is truly remarkable how much progress has been made in a short period of time, and I am very excited to see what the next couple of years can bring us in terms of new ground-breaking discoveries.

But culture is not one single entity, it comes in multiple flavors. The issue of how we should view different cultural domains has been discussed throughout centuries. What distinguishes music from visual arts? Dancing from architecture? Opera from poetry? We are talking about a treasure chest of potential.

As a university, we are guardians with a responsibility to secure that newlyintroduced practices are based on evidence. We also have a responsibility thatour research serves patients and the community, that is translational research.

Translational research requires physical proximity – that research is conductedclose to the patients it is meant to serve. Few places are better suited to thisthan Stockholm. The present and the future bridges over Solnavägen will besymbols and facilitators of the cooperation between Karolinska Institutet andKarolinska University Hospital.Translational research requires not only physical proximity – but also proximitybetween scientific disciplines and this is particularly evident in relation to thetopic of todays symposium “Culture and Health”. We talk aboutinterdisciplinary research. In this regard, Karolinska Institutet – a medicaluniversity – is completely dependent on effective collaboration with otheruniversities. I am pleased that such collaborations are already in place. I believethat the field “culture and health” can be instrumental in joining ”the twocultures” – humanities and science.

But of course the common goal of improving people’s health needs to involvethe whole society that we serve and that it does not cease at professional,regional or national borders.

It is not as a single isolated medical university, but only through cross-bordercollaboration, that we together can contribute to improving people’s health.

I wish you all a day filled with interesting insights as well as stimulating cultural impressions.