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Music Therapy as Medicine for the Brain

When a 60-year-old speaking coach Rande Davis Gedaliah was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2003, she experienced problems with her balance, leg spasms, difficulty walking and severe fall in the shower. But something incredible happened when she turned on her radio: She can move her legs with no problems, her balance has improved drastically, and Rande can do all the activities that she wants to do like dancing.

The big question is, "How did she do that?" The answer is music. She listens to music depending on her mood. If she wants to move faster, she will pump up her walkman with "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen. If she wants a slower pace, she will listen to "We Are the Champions" by Queen.

A lot of medical experts are saying that music therapy has been around for decades and being used as a way to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's. It can also relieve anxiety and depression. Brain stimulants are good,but there are times that people with neurodegenerative diseases are advised to avoid stimulants like caffeine, or Nootropics. That is why they need another way to stimulate their brain. This is where music therapy comes into play.

Today, because of advancement in brain imaging and neuroscience, doctors can now see what is happening in the brain as people listen to music or when they play a musical instrument, and why music therapy works. It has been justified for the past few years that music therapy helps restore expressive language loss in aphasia patients that undergone brain injury from stroke.

Aside from improving speech and movement, music can trigger the release of brain chemicals that can alter moods as well as trigger lost emotions and memories. Stroke and Parkinson's patients can benefit more on music therapy compared to other neurological illnesses because the human brain is naturally accustomed to responding to high-rhythmic music.

(To know more about Parkinson’s disease, visit

Our nervous system is unique to mammals because humans automatically foot-taps whenever they hear the music. In patients with Parkinson's, that has difficulty initiating body movements or bradykinesia, and it is thought that music can trigger the neurons to translate the music into organized body movement. Some patients develop something like a mechanism for auditory timing.

People with moving problems can immediately release from their "frozen mode" and starts walking. Or if the patient has problems with their balance, they can coordinate their steps with the rhythm of the music. Slow rhythm can relax the muscle's jerky motion of Parkinson's patients.

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Playing good music requires coordinated muscle movements and develops an ear for timing. It can also bring stunning results. Some workshops can help neurodegenerative disease patients improve their actions as well as their brain functions.

The workshops use traditional musical instruments like drums, guitars, or xylophones. The patients participate in group activities like playing percussion pieces, as a form of music therapy for patients with physical and cognitive disabilities. It includes Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The workshops teach patients to play along with traditional beats using musical instruments like bongos, drums, congas, ukulele, guitar, or xylophones. Patients report that the control of their physical movements has improved tremendously after they joined music therapies. Their motions become more fluid compared before, and they don't shake as much as they used to.

Their tremors also seem to calm down during the session. Research shows that music therapy with Parkinson's patients have improved their motor control after they participated in group music therapy sessions than compared to patients that underwent the usual physical therapy sessions. But after the course was discontinued, the benefits were no longer obvious, and it means that music therapy session should be continued if patients want to get the best result possible.

Most experts recommend that patients should do both traditional and group music therapy to increase the effectiveness of the sessions. Patients can also make music libraries for MP3s or CD players that they can use while they are doing other things in their daily lives.

(To Know more about traditional therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, click here.)

Because the area of the brain that is responsible for speech network overlaps with the area of the brain that process music, neurologists found a method called melodic intonation remedy. It is instrumental at retraining the patients how to speak by creating new neuronal pathways or transferring a new one.

Even after the patient suffers a stroke that damages the left side of the brain (the left side is responsible for people's speech), some patients can still sing properly. With repetition, therapists can start removing music and allow the patients to speak the lyrics of the song and substitutes regular sentences or phrases in their place.

As the patient tries to recall the words that have the same meaning to the lyrics, the patient's word retrieval, as well as their speech, can dramatically improve. Music therapy appears to activate the areas of the brain (specifically the right side) suggesting that the region need to pick up the slack since the left side is damaged.

It is pretty amazing to see the image of the brain during the sessions; no one would expect to see how the human brain of an adult patient compensates whenever one part is damaged. Not every patient will respond to music therapy, and it may also take several therapy sessions before the patient can see any positive effect.

(Want to know more about music therapy? Click here.)

Neurologists have found that simple anxiety and stress reduction methods like muscle relaxation exercise as well as facial massage can maximize the impact of music therapy session for patients that suffer neurodegenerative diseases as well as people who suffer from stroke, and other muscular disabilities.
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