Research Shows Music Can Heal the Mind

Melodies help patients remember words they know but can't say

By Nesita Kwan, Michael Pedraza and BJ Lutz
|  Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009  |  Updated 8:30 PM CDT
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Music as Brain Medicine

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Music as Brain Medicine

A psychologist says music is so complex it's the only experience that activates almost every part of the brain. And that can aid in rehabilitation.
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Have a bad day and music can lift your spirits. Have a brain injury and music can actually rehabilitate, research increasingly shows.

Therapists say music has a broad ability to help Alzheimer's patients remember, improve the motor skills of those with Parkinson's and even help children with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Two years ago, a stroke left 69-year-old Rosemary Page unable to say much more than single syllables. Speech therapy alone didn't help much, but the addition of music has helped Rosemary learn to construct simple sentences.

Music works, therapists say, by bypassing the brain’s damaged language centers and creating new pathways to the parts of the brain that process music.

Psychologist Ted Rubinstein says music is so complex, it's the only experience that activates almost every part of the brain.  It can go around the damage and find another way of tapping memory, he said, helping a patient remember the words they know but can't form.

Music as a language has a "melody, rhythm, beat, and timbre. It also has an organized sound that matches our heartbeat, the way our blood moves, and creates a feeling in us," Rubinstein explained.

For example, if a therapist melodically sang "take me out...," a patient undergoing therapy could learn to complete the phrase, with "...to the ballgame."

In time, people with aphasia, like Page, are often able to sing words when they can’t speak them.

Her one-on-one sessions twice a week are helping her learn basic sentences melodically.  And the repetition helps her relearn the natural rhythms of speech.

She's now able to laugh and joke with her family.  The ultimate goal, her therapist says, is that she'll be able to have a conversation with a stranger and be understood.

National Aphasia Association
Music Therapy Association
Music Institute of Chicago

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