Thursday, January 7, 2016

The science of music therapy

Have you ever wondered how music therapy works? In the article “Top 12 Brain-Based Reasons Why Music as Therapy Works” by Karen Merzenich, it breaks down and explains 12 reasons how music interacts with the brain, which can relate to the idea of the movie “Alive Inside.” Reason #1:  Music is a core function in our brain; it is wired to respond to and process music early in our life such as when mothers sing lullabies and use rhythmic rocking to calm their babies. Reason #2: Our bodies entrain to rhythm. When listening to music, you find yourself walking to the beat or humming to the song. Musical input enters our central nervous system through our auditory nerve, and it can head to motor nerves in the spinal cord. Music therapists can help a person who has had a stroke re-learn how to walk and develop strength and endurance in their upper bodies. Reason #3: We have physiologic responses to music such as breathing speeding up, heart-rate increasing, or feeling a shiver down the spine. Music therapists can use this to help stimulate a person in a coma or use music to effectively help someone relax. Reason #4: Children and infants respond readily to music as soon as they hear it! Have you seen kids just start dancing or singing to music when they hear it? It's natural! Music is important to children because they learn through music, art, and play. Reason #5: Music taps into our emotions. Have you ever listened to a certain type of music and smiled or felt sad? Many people use this in a “therapeutic” way, listening to certain music that makes them feel a certain way. The ability for music to easily access our emotions is very beneficial for music therapists. In the movie, Dan Cohen took iPods and earphones to nursing homes across the country to show the benefits it had on patients with Alzheimer's or dementia. It helped reveal their emotions (sadness, happiness, anger) to some of their favorite songs. Reason #6: Music helps improve our attention skills. Even from an early age, music can grab and hold our attention. This allows music therapists to our basic functions by targeting our attention and impulse control goals. Reason #7: Music uses shared neural circuits as speech-- listening to or singing music with lyrics. Music therapists can use this ability to help a child learn to communicate or help someone who has had a stroke re-learn how to talk again. Reason #8: Music enhances learning. The inherent structure and emotional pull of music makes it an easy tool for teaching concepts, ideas, and  information. Music is an effective device and can mark information making it easy to learn. Reason #9: Music taps into our memories. Music is second only to smell for its ability to stimulate our memory in a very powerful way. Music therapists who work with older adults with dementia have countless stories of how music stimulates their clients to reminisce about their life. Reason #10: Music is a social experience. Our ancestors bonded and passed on their stories and knowledge through song, stories, and dance just like nowadays. Music makes it easy for music therapists to structure and facilitate a group process. Reason #11: Music is predictable, structured, and organized and often has a predictable steady beat, organized phrases, and a structured form. Most songs are organized in a way that we like and enjoy listening to over and over again. Reason #12: Music is non-invasive, safe, motivating, and enjoyed by most people. This article reveals a lot about how music has helped us develop and can rehabilitate those who have suffered from a stroke, Alzheimer's, dementia, and various other diseases and injuries!
--Caitlin Vickers

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