Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Music Care Conference 2012

This blog is based the last installment of the Music Care Conference held at the Edward Johnson building, Toronto on the 11th November 2012. There will be a YouTube link to this conference available soon.

The conference began with an introduction by Professor Lee Bartel, who delineated the objectives of the Music Care Conference. He outlined several research spheres:

-          Therapy and medicine as it relates to sound

-          Body, brain and mind

-          Society and culture

-          Medicine and therapy

-          Sustaining peak performance

These topics, he said, will aid in the development of knowledge on topics such as long term approach to musicians health, the effects of long term musical training, music enjoyment and rehabilitation, music based sleep induction, and rhythmic sound stimulation on Alzheimer’s patients. 

He then posed the question; “If I had a million dollars, what research would I do in music medicine?”

Two researchers ventured to answer this question, Dr. J Loewy and Dr. Gottfried Schlaug.

Dr. Loewy dealt with Music and Medicine in ageing research. Firstly, she examined the public view of music therapy, stating that effective portrayal of music therapy in the media would incite thought in the general populace. She refers to the speech therapy portrayed in the movie ‘The King’s Speech’ as an example of music therapy. She also mentioned the cases of Gaby Giffords and Helen Keller. She then dealt with integrative medicine, focusing on the relationship between caregiver and patient. She mentioned the relevance of caregivers and underlined the need for greater emphasis of mind/body/spirit connections. This led into her discussion on caregiver burden and how difficult the experience of caregiving usually is. Finally, from the research perspective, she deals with the issue of evidence and methodological challenges. She states that multiple sources of evidence are preferable in research, and that the patient is the best source of evidence.

Dr. Schlaug dealt with Music and the brain – benefits of music-making and examples of music’s therapeutic effects. Schlaug described music as a ‘multisensory motor experience’ and an ‘alternative vehicle into dysfunctional parts of the brain’. He goes on to say that more brain activation occurs during singing than during speaking. He then deals with a particular part of the brain called the arcuate fasciculus which he claims is responsible for mapping sound into action. Schlaug also says that humans are normally born with this region of the brain equal on both sides, but generally the left side tends to develop more. However, in autism, this section of the brain develops differently. This having been said, Schlaug deals with the therapeutic potential of music therapy, saying that it improves initiation and gait in Parkinson’s patients (however, the effects are not long-lasting), that singing improves stuttering and that intonation based therapy may help in cases of aphasia. He also informed listeners that structural changes actually occurred in the brains of individuals receiving music therapy.


Personally, I find the concept of music therapy to be completely motivating and relevant, so I posed Professor Bartel’s question to myself, what would I do with a million dollars for music therapy research? I think I would use it to improve the quality of life of individuals with disabilities, leaning on the concepts of plasticity and entrainment, savantism, and development of physical neurological structure. Dr. Loewy’s research would apply directly to this, because making the public aware of the importance and effectiveness of music therapy is an important step. Caregiver health should also be taken into account, because this type of work can prove to be very challenging. The exploration of the mind/body/spirit connection is facilitated by the use of music, and disabled individuals would certainly benefit from this. Loewy’s concern with methodological challenges is also important, because it is difficult to quantify the experiences of human beings, but every piece of research adds to this body of knowledge. Dr. Schlaug’s insight into the anatomy of the brain in terms of development would also be helpful, especially concerning the exploration of the development of the arcuate fasciculus in disabled individuals. The continued exploration of how alternative neural pathways develop in damaged brains will certainly contribute positively to this area of research.

This conference reminded me of the power of music therapy and the important role of neurological research in this field. It is very important to keep this kind of research on stream, especially if we are to provide a higher standard of life for differently able individuals through the use of music.

1 comment:

Vivek Sharma said...

I also find the concept of music therapy to be awe-inspiring. Just the idea that music can impact our bodies and brains in ways that can lead to the healing of disease is enthralling.

I think we will be seeing much more in the development of music therapies for Parkinson's. The fact that singing activates more parts of the brain than speaking is interesting, because it implies that singing requires a greater cognitive load than speaking. Despite this, singing seems to lower the inhibiting factors that cause stuttering. In Parkinson's, the fact that music and rhythm can improve motor-initiation and gait may also testify to this same process of balancing inhibitory forces, which I believe underlies the medicinal element to music therapy in the context of aiding motor-sensory cognitive tasks.

Dr. Schlaug was quick to note that there is no evidence that musical experience has a protective element in terms of Alzheimer's and stroke. Interestingly, he did admit that anecdotally, the musician population has a low rate of these diseases. This is something that is difficult to study but worth the effort. I would like to see this question answered, since it may allow our large aging population to immerse themselves with music as soon as possible to get the maximum benefit in the case there actually is a protective element.