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Music to Your Ears

Nothing really engages the human brain like music.

The left brain enjoys rhythmic structures, chord progressions, and the way lyrics fit nicely. While the right brain soars on melody and emotional responses produced by the infinite combinations of instruments and voices.

But music's effect on the brain may go far beyond enjoyment. In fact, more than 5,000 certified music therapists in the U.S. base their professional practice on the healing properties of music.

Along with these specialized therapists, neurologists have been conducting research that's already revealed evidence that music is a multipurpose therapeutic tool.

Less confusion, less depression

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Harvard neurologist Dr. Gottfried Schlaug explains that when an area of the brain is disabled due to trauma or disease, music provides a unique way to reach that area, sometimes restoring impaired functions such as movement, memory, and speech.

For instance, researchers have found that music can establish a steady pace that helps patients with advanced Parkinson's disease initiate walking.

Music therapy has also been used to temporarily open up areas of memory for Alzheimer's patients. And in one study, mood and function significantly improved in subjects with dementia who learned that when they pushed a button they would be rewarded with a familiar song.

In research conducted by Dr. Schlaug, stroke victims who developed speech impairments were taught to improve speech fluency by expressing themselves with a chant-like form of singing.

Last year, I told you about a University of Helsinki study that examined 60 stroke patients. Divided into three groups, some patients listened to whatever music they liked, some patients listened to audio books, and some patients had no specific listening plan.

After three months, focused attention and mental operation abilities improved by nearly 20 percent in the music group, but didn't improve at all in the other two groups. Verbal memory scores in the music group improved by a very large margin, and subjects were less confused and less depressed compared to the other groups.

One stroke expert told the BBC that more research is needed before widespread use of music as therapy can be recommended for stroke victims. This caution is laughable unless someone can produce any evidence at all of a single adverse side effect of music.

Jenny Thompson
is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Visit to sign up for the free HSI e-Alert.

April 8, 2010


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