When Music Becomes Medicine for the Brain
By Matthew Shulman
September 1, 2008
U.S. News and World Report
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Music therapy has been used for decades to treat neurological conditions. Advances in neuroscience and brain imaging are revealing what is actually occurring in the brain as patients undergo music therapy for their conditions.
Patients with Parkinson’s and stroke have benefited from music therapy because the “human brain is innately attuned to respond to highly rhythmic music.” Patients who almost seem “frozen” can begin moving again when listening to slow, rhythmic music. Playing music has also benefited some patients. Using Drum Workshops patients use percussion pieces as a form of therapy and have reported that their control of physical movement improves after the workshops.
Many stroke victims have been able to speak again through a technique called “melodic intonation therapy” whereby they actually speak through song. The technique helps to activate areas on the right side of the brain, picking up the slack for the damaged left side.
Through music therapy patients also had improvement in their moods. The researchers believe this is because of an increase in the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and melatonin. Stress and anxiety relief are one of the main reasons that music therapy is so helpful to patients. Music can also help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s to remember more especially when using music from weddings, religious services or favourite childhood songs. Not everyone responds to the treatment.
This short article was very informative and interesting though I feel the need to do further research on some of the topics outlined. It was an excellent introduction to some of the ways that music therapy can be beneficial to a variety of patients. I thought it was very interesting that the use of music could help a person with Parkinson’s become more mobile. This makes sense because walking is something we do in an organized, patterned manner. Parkinson’s disease can often cause leg spasms and balance problems. It is amazing that the brain will respond to the music in such a way that a person could once again move in a smooth, steady manner. I found it very interesting that the patient outlined in the paper used “Born in the U.S.A” to move quickly and “We are the Champions” to move at a slower pace. It seems that all that the patient needed was soundtrack to move along with! Amazing! It made me think of what music I might chose to help me if I were in this situation. I have decided on Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmilla” for a fast pace and Grieg’s “Morning Mood from Peer Gynt” when I need a slower pace. A person could create an entire library of “paces” in order to get from one place to another effectively.
The technique “melodic intonation therapy” is also very interesting. It amazes me that even though the part of the brain required for speech may be damaged, a stroke victim could learn to communicate again through singing initially and then eventually re-learn how to speak. The part of the brain that is used for the production of music is different than that of the speech section and as a result the patient could learn to talk again through song.
I think the most beneficial part of music therapy for any patient is the interaction with others and making/listening to music together. Interacting with others and doing something enjoyable almost always helps to improve one’s mood and I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine. Being happy and content will undoubtedly make a sick person feel better. Being alone and in isolation causes a person to feel worse than they might actually be feeling. Music, along with laughter, is a great medicine for the brain and for a patients overall mood.