Sunday, January 8, 2012

Music therapy

One year ago in Tucson, a gunman killed six people and wounded thirteen at the Safeway plaza on Oracle and Ina. Among the wounded was congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Mistakenly declared dead in initial news reports after she took a bullet to the head, she has made amazing progress in her recovery. A contributing factor: music therapy.
Giffords still struggles to speak in sentences, but she has much less trouble singing. An important part of her therapy now involves singing songs she knew before the shooting.

The ability to speak is mainly controlled by two areas on the left side of the brain. But when we sing or listen to music, wide swaths of both sides of the brain become active. Doctors have learned putting words to melody stimulates memory and helps a damaged brain recover the ability to process language.

"And the idea is that can maybe be used as a proxy or as an alternative," said Dr. Michael Lemole, who was Giffords' neurosurgeon. "Just take away the music part and all of a sudden now you're stringing words together in a sentence.
Music, for me, has always been a powerful, magical force in itself. I don't love it because of its potential medicinal effects. I love it because it's music.

Still, the idea that singing can help people remember how to speak makes sense to me. Very simple phrases have a lot more emotional impact when they're set to music in just the right way. Singing marries thought and emotion. Songs help us feel what we're thinking and understand what we're feeling.

Everybody needs music therapy once in a while.


Jeff Shattuck said...

Agreed. I'm positive that Gabrielle Giffords will continue to recover. She is lucky to be alive and to have such good care.

Brian McDonald said...

I wonder how (or if) something like rap would work in music therapy. Opinions about whether rap is "really music" aside, it has the music backing, the rhythmic verbalization, just without the traditional emphasis on melody. Rapping isn't quite singing, but it isn't just talking either. Not that I'm suggesting her doctors defer to Dr. Dre or anything. But it'd be interesting to see if someone brought up in the hip hop culture had similar gains using rap as to more melodic musical styles.

John Wenger said...

There is a German musician who suffered some sort of catastrophe (I think it was a stroke) which not only wiped out his memory but causes him to forget something about ten seconds after he stops talking about it. And yet, he still remembers his music and his ability to play instruments and to conduct. A lot of scientists are learning more about the brain by studying this man.

DeppityBob said...

There are probably plenty of instances of people who can't put together a sentence after a head injury, but who can sing the entirety of the "Gilligan's Island" theme song without dropping a beat. Which tells me that if you could set *Das Kapital* to music, Communism might finally have a chance.

Jannie Funster said...

I'm so glad she's found that music heals and helps bring her back.

The proper marriage of word and melody IS magic. Sometimes I'll hear a song I've not heard in maybe 20 or 30 years,and miraculously the words come flooding back, and I'm able to sing along. Amazing!!


Chronic Fatigue Symptoms said...

I am fully agree with your therapy discussion. Only music can cure every disease of life and body.

Such a great invention. Thanks for sharing this information with us.