Music has always been known to contain healing properties. Most notably recent use of music has helped Gabby Giffords, former Arizona congresswoman retrieve her memory after a gunshot caused extensive brain damage. Observing her progress and process with singing as a helpful tool for brain damage makes you wonder what other conditions might benefit from the sound of music.
Scientists have been busy applying music therapy to Alzheimer’s, dementia and stroke patients with good results for many years. Recalling tunes allows the brain to access words linked with melodies in a different part of the brain than speech alone. Despite their similarities, music and language are processed in different parts of the brain: Language in the left hemisphere; and music, generally, in the right one. That’s why Giffords could sing a song before being able to link sentences, according to a report by Diane Sawyer of ABC news. But other forms of “automatic language,” such as greetings and prayers, can also be spared, (recalled) according to Lyn Turkstra, associate professor of communicative disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The AARP Bulletin reports on the benefits of music to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
When our dad was recuperating from a stroke my sisters and I thought of how he always loved to serenade us. We bought a CD of the latest ballads sung by a famous Italian singer. To our dismay dad didn’t respond too much, even asking us to turn it off. We chalked up the lack of appreciation to his hearing loss. We were puzzled, but only until we changed the music to songs that my dad already knew the words to, sung by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Even with hearing loss he recognized the melodies and sang along using the right words, tapping lightly with his fingers. A patient who is no longer very verbal may start singing a nursery rhyme or tune from his youth if encouraged by a loved one or therapist.
A case in point occurred while I was volunteering at a nursing community for Alzheimer patients. *Anna did not recall that I had visited her the previous Tuesday but sang a German folk song from her youth flawlessly after our mention about the country of her youth.
In children studied who were limited in verbal skills, music unlocked learning and enhanced cognitive progress as it involves different areas in the brain from language. Music is also multi-sensory, increasing the odds of cognitive development and does not discriminate by age.
This Huffington Post article mentions the anxiety lowering and mood enhancing ability of music as therapy. No wonder entertainers command generous salaries. Music can improve our lives. Excuse me while I go turn up Mozart’s A Little Night Music which has a delightful lilt associated with fond memories of Salzburg, Austria.