The Journey of Strengthening Brain Disorders Through Neurologic Music Therapy

Music therapists work with neurological patients to help stimulate cognition.

People are learning the power of rhythm again to help with their balance and dexterity after a traumatic accident that affected their brains.

Neurologic music therapy is a system of techniques used to help stimulate the brain and assist with physical movement. Rhythm, melody, dynamics, and tempo are some of the methods used. Neurologic music therapy can be used to help people who have suffered any brain injury or disease.

What is a Neurological Disorder?

The brain controls our entire bodies. If the brain is harmed in any way, our bodies will not function properly. Our bodies will not physically move the way they're supposed to without a working brain.

A neurological disorder occurs when the brain is impacted. Our brains connect to our nervous system. If our nervous system becomes impaired, it causes our brains to become dysfunctional. 

There are many different causes of a neurological disorder. Sometimes, they’re genetic, while others happen by illness or a traumatic injury.

Symptoms of Brain Injuries

Symptoms of brain injuries include the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Speech difficulty
  • Numbness
  • Paralysis
  • Memory loss
  • Concentration problems

When people experience a brain injury, they need rehabilitation to regain functionality. This is where the help of music therapy comes in.

Woman who experienced a brain injury learned to sing again to help repair speech after that part of the brain had been damaged.

How Can Music Therapy Help?

Music therapy can help people who endure a neurological disorder. It helps by activating cognitive, motor, and speech centers within the brain. There are different methods used in neurological music therapy to help reactivate functionality. This of course depends on the trauma the person has endured.

Specific Interventions

Neurologic music therapy treats the cognitive areas in the brain. It helps with attention, arousal, auditory perception, executive functioning, and memory. 

Singing has a benefit on problem areas because the muscles we use to speak are the same muscles we use to sing. Singing helps to strengthen the neural system that is also shared by speech. Thus, they work hand in hand to help improve treatment areas. It also helps stimulate the muscles corresponding with respiration, phonation, articulation, and resonance. The brain then sends signals to the muscles to operate.

The following problem areas can be treated with the help of singing:

  • Expressive aphasia
  • Fluency
  • Prosody
  • Apraxia
  • Vocalization
  • Coordination
  • Volume
  • Breath and oral motor control
  • Respiratory strength
  • Dysarthria
  • Articulation
  • Intelligibility
  • Comprehension

Auditory rhythm has been proven to show an increase in movement within clients. Rhythm helps people who have been impacted by a neurological disorder, by improving their motor skills. It helps rehabilitate strength, endurance, balance, range of motion, coordination, and dexterity. All of these help to increase the fine and gross motor skills in clients.

The Role of Neurological Music Therapists

Neurological music therapists are trained specialists. They help people who have experienced a neurological disorder. They go through extensive training, which includes an undergraduate program. It also includes a certification through the national Certification Board for Music Therapists. After they complete their undergrad, they must complete a 4-day, 30 hour training at the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy. Then, they will practice at the academy for another three years.

Throughout their three years at the academy, they must also attend the Academy of Advanced Training Institute. Here, they continue their education as well as peer review a licensed therapist’s clinical application.

Upon completion, the therapist is registered as a Fellow of The Academy. They must complete the Advanced Training Institute every five years in order to maintain Fellow status.

This is a close up photo of a neuron that is not stimulated. People that have suffered a brain injury have neurons within the brain that don’t “light up”. It’s because their injury prevents proper brain functionality.

Proof That It Works 

Rhythm plays a crucial role in neurologic music therapy. The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy has focused on three main areas of study. They include:

  • The application of rhythm to help the long-term mobility of people with disorders.
  • Proof that neurologic music therapy helps to rehabilitate speech and language

In the 1990’s, their team found that rhythm improves the functionality of gait ability in people who have suffered a stroke. The synchronization of beats and movements within the song helped clients facilitate the following:

  • Speed
  • Symmetry
  • Muscle activation patterns

More recent studies have shown rhythm sustains the functionality of gait ability for a longer period of time. This means that people have used music therapy to rehabilitate physical ailments. These ailments ease better and longer compared to those who do not use music therapy. It’s helped clients with Parkinson’s and cerebral palsy significantly.

A pilot study from 2016 observes fifty-five clients who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. They were divided into two groups. Thirty of them were classified into the experimental group while the other twenty-five were placed into the control group. The experimental group was subjected to music therapy four times a week. Therapeutic instrumental music performance, pattern sensory enhancement, and RAS were used for forty-five minutes. These methods were used to strengthen everyday life activities, balance, pre-gait, and gait pattern. 

The control group subjects were not exposed to music therapy and were simply asked to stay active. Staying active is supposed to help gait movements to function with more agility, which is difficult for people with Parkinson’s.

The results concluded that neurologic music therapy does in fact improve gait parameters. There was a significant spike in the gait parameters of those in the experimental group in comparison to the control group. The ability to walk in strides did not advance as well in the control group as it did in the experimental group. Step and stride length was another indicator that proved neurologic music therapy to be beneficial. There was a large increase in velocity when it came to the experimental group, but not so much for the control group.

All in All

Music therapy has been proven to show significant increases in clients with various brain disorders. Neurologic music therapy is just one way to help clients who have suffered from some kind of brain injury.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Samantha Damico
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