Turning to Music to Help Treat Neurological Conditions

November 23, 2021

You probably don’t realize it when you’re listening to your favorite song, but music has an incredibly powerful effect on the human brain.

Singing, playing an instrument, or listening to music have all been shown to activate numerous areas of the brain that control speech, movement, and cognition, memory and emotion – often all at the same time.

Remarkably, research also suggests that music can physically increase brain matter, which could help the brain repair itself.

More intriguing is the impact that music can have even in cases where the brain may not be functioning as it should.

For example, studies show that for people with Alzheimer’s, music can often spark a reaction, helping patients access memories that were previously lost.

There’s also evidence of patients who have suffered brain damage and lost the ability to speak that can still sing when music is played.

Given the powerful effect that music has on the brain, researchers are investigating whether it can be used to treat many different neurological conditions – such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or brain injury.

One such treatment currently being investigated for use is neurologic music therapy.

Neurologic music therapy works a bit like physiotherapy or speech therapy, in that it aims to help patients manage symptoms and function better in their daily life.

Therapy sessions use musical or rhythmical exercises to help patients regain functional skills. For example, patients relearning to walk after an accident or trauma might walk to the rhythm of music during a therapy session.

Talking, walking, thinking

So far, this type of therapy has shown promise in helping stroke survivors to recover language, improve walking and recover physical movement better than other standard therapies.

Researchers have also investigated whether neurologic music therapy can treat other movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Most studies in this area have used a technique called rhythmic entrainment exercises, which uses the brain’s ability to synchronize with a beat unconsciously – such as having to walk to a specific speed of music or beat.

Compared to doing therapy without music, neurologic music therapy has been shown to improve walking and reduce moments of “freezing” (a temporary, involuntary inability to move) in Parkinson’s patients.

Studies have also investigated whether this type of therapy can treat cognitive issues in people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or have Huntington’s disease.

For these types of conditions, neurologic music therapy focuses on activating and stimulating areas of the brain which may have been damaged – such as the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-control.

This might involve the patient switching between playing two types of musical instruments when they hear a change in the music they’re playing along to (such as the tempo becoming faster or slower).

One research study found that these types of activities improved concentration and attention for patients with traumatic brain injury. This in turn had a positive impact on their wellbeing and lowered feelings of depression or anxiety.

Music and the brain

It’s thought that the reason neurological music therapy works is because music can activate and simulate so many different parts of the brain simultaneously.

For patients with neurological conditions, it’s often the connections in the brain that are causing problems, rather than a specific area itself.

Read More

0 comment