Music Therapy and Its Impact on Neurological Conditions

How Neurologic Music Therapy Impacts the Brain

Music therapy, the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions, is frequently used to treat several health conditions. Regular usage of music therapy treatment has shown great improvements across the charts. Some great benefits about this form of treatment is that it can be done anywhere and can be used on any individual regardless of age. In fact, music therapy has been introduced to patients as young as premature babies, and on the other hand, those who struggle with dementia.  

Despite how long music therapy has been around, it is still being studied to see what health conditions receive the most positive results. Although music therapy is used in conditions such as pain management and heart related issues, it has shown the most vast results in neurological disorders.

Because of its outstanding results observed in several neurological conditions, we will explore deeper into this topic by address two frequently asked questions:

  • What is neurologic music therapy?
  • What outcomes can neurologic music therapy bring to patients?

What is Neurologic Music Therapy?

Common neurological disorders treated with neurologic music therapy

First, let's address what a neurological condition is. Scientifically speaking, all neurological conditions occur when an interference happens within the nervous system. While the body’s nervous system is very large, it is made up by three main components - the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Therefore if someone is struggling with a health condition that deals with one of these three components it can be classified as a neurological condition and treated with neurologic music therapy.

The technical definition of neurologic music therapy (NMT) is the therapeutic use of music applied to sensory, speech and language, cognitive, and motor dysfunctions after a neurologic event or diagnosis. While there are more than 600 neurologic diseases, we will narrow our focus to the most common conditions that music therapists are capable of treating - Autism, Parkinson's disease, Cerebral Palsy, and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).

What outcomes can neurologic music therapy bring to patients?

Improving cognitive and physical symptoms in neurological disorders

While symptoms exhibited are not seen throughout all conditions, they are still classified as neurological disorders and can be treated. Despite NMT’s name, it's important to remember that no prior musical knowledge is needed and outcomes go far beyond just learning a catchy tune.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

For patients with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who use neurological music therapy as their form of  treatment would focus mainly on their cognitive skills. Since the majority of individuals with Autism don't necessarily have trouble with movement, a music therapy would help them with their social and language skills. Typical symptoms include repetitive language, trouble paying attention and following directions.

Since NMT engages many different parts of the brain. Messages being conveyed through music have more chances to be understood. Studies found that the language center of the brain in Autistic individuals became more active when listening to signing. Therefore with regular music interventions led by a music therapist, this treatment can aid in re-shaping the brain and changing behavior.

puzzle piece photo that says Until All the Pieces Fit
A puzzle piece is the symbol for Autism Awareness. Music helps put the pieces together. Image courtesy of The Wreath Shop.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease on the other hand is a condition which affects a person more physically than cognitively. Symptoms may include tremors, trouble with regular movement, and loss of balance. This disease is most common in individuals over the age of 60.

When working with a music therapist the first goal of the patient is for them to find the rhythm. Once that is found, they have a template to help coordinate movement, and combat cognitive issues that affect movement function like attention and focus. In addition to improvements seen within a patient's motor skills, mental health has been seen to change for the better also. Patients tend to have less anxiety, depression, and become more socially engaged.

old couple dancing in kitchen
Even though movement may be challenging, dancing can help improve movement for those with neurological conditions. Image courtesy of iStock.


Cerebral Palsy

Individuals diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy tend to have the most issues with physical tasks. It is not uncommon for them to make involuntary movements, and have a lack of coordination. Cognitive issues do arise but they tend to be associated with eating and swallowing. Like Parkinson’s, a patient finding the rhythm is the first step to a successful treatment. However, the younger the patient, the better the outcomes.

When using music therapy goals include getting the patient to relax, concentrate, socialize, and control emotions. A music therapist can help patients associate songs to certain objects and can help them communicate better. As for helping a patient with motor skills, finding the rhythm in a song will ease muscle tension so movement becomes more natural. Additional research found outcomes such as increased motivation, higher levels of relaxation, and improvement in movement, socialization and language skills.

music therapist playing guitar and signing in hospital. Small child signing to a baby
A child working with a therapist. Image courtesy of Peterson Family Foundation.


Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) can cause many different complications both physically and cognitively. Physically, loss of balance or coordination is common and cognitively issues involving speech can occur. In addition to that, depending on the brain injury, the individual may seem confused from time to time. TBIs can happen to anyone.

Goals will be different between patients depending on what effects the TBI left on the individual. If a patient struggles with cognitive issues such as speech, signing can help with verbal skills such as breath control and speech timing. Signing also makes expression emotion easier. For those who struggle with motor skills, music therapists have techniques to help with muscle control and range of motion. For example, upbeat music helps when exercising certain muscle groups. People who choose to use this form of treatment tend to increase their overall quality of life.

In addition to the four neurological conditions mentioned, there are several other diseases that NMT can help treat. While NMT is not a cure, it is a treatment that can help with certain physical and cognitive issues while helping to improve an individual’s quality of life.

Mental health is important and those who work with a music therapist, regardless of their condition, tend to benefit in other areas as well. If you or someone you know is struggling with a neurological disorder reach out to Incadence. They will help you find a music therapist that best fits your needs and can help improve your quality of life.

Lydia Bernardo
Lydia enjoys playing piano and spending time outside.
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