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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Music therapy treats diseases and conditions from Parkinson's to autism

Thursday, June 4th 2009, 4:00 AM

Sing it! Evidence that music can be a powerful healing tool continues to grow.

Listen up: belting out tunes in the shower may not only be music to your ears, but may also treat a variety of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, aphasia and dementia.

In fact, singing has both physical and neurological benefits, according to a CNN article in which Dr. Wendy Magee, International Fellow in Music Therapy at the Institute of Neuropalliative Rehabilitation in London, described music as a “mega-vitamin for the brain” that can improve a host of conditions.

“When neural pathways are damaged for one particular function such as language, musical neural pathways are actually much more complex and much more widespread within the brain,” she told CNN. “Music seems to find re-routed paths and that is why it is such a useful tool in terms of helping people with different kinds of brain damage because it can help to find new pathways in terms of brain functioning.”

Music is effective in treating not just certain medical disorders but also autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), says Dr. Robert Melillo, co-founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers and the author of “Disconnected Kids” (Penguin, 2009).

“Music works to stimulate the balance center of the brain and different chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, which we know is deficient in Parkinson’s disease,” Melillo explains. “Music can help stimulate the production of dopamine.”

Music is a powerful tool that is used in treatments of kids with ADHD as well, he says. “Different areas of the brain need to be coordinated from a timing standpoint for the brain to work completely as a whole,” he says. “Music, because it has a rhythm to it, can actually cause the brain to change the speed in different areas so that the timing becomes better.”

Researchers in Finland, according to the CNN piece, showed that listening to music for several hours daily can help stroke victims with their rehabilitation while another study described how stroke patients taught to play the piano or drums made faster progress in their recovery than patients who were treated only with traditional therapy.

Music is used to assist stroke patients by having them sing, rather than say the words as they work to regain speech, explains Ellayne S. Ganzfried, executive director of the National Aphasia Association.

The treatment, called melodic intonation therapy (MIT), is used in patients recovering from a stroke or brain injury, she says.

“Music is in the right side of the brain and language is in the left,” Ganzfried explains. “It’s thought that if we stimulate the right side of the brain then the left side of the brain will make the connection as well.”

Music may help those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to the CNN article, because the therapist can use familiar songs to bring out memories in a patient that may have been lost. And music gives joy both to the singer and the listener, says Gary Baker, a member of the Peace of Heart choir. The group rehearses in midtown Thursday evenings and has given 1,200 free performances in nursing homes, hospices, homeless shelters and hospitals.

“Our mission is to heal with music, and the reaction of our audiences is often powerful and emotional,” Baker says. “It seems to be part of the psychology of the human brain that music offers healing. And it offers a little bit of pleasure at the same time.”

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