Music and Traumatic Brain Injury
Brain Injury Blog by Patrick Hogan
April 20, 2012
Music Can Ease the Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury
Every preschooler effortlessly learns the alphabet by singing a catchy tune. Both educators and neurologists have long understood music’s role in brain development and memory retention. Song and speech occupy separate but related areas of the brain. As demonstrated by research with the victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI), far from being merely a method of rote learning, music may actually open blocked channels or expose new pathways in the brain, speeding the language recovery of accident victims and stroke and dementia patients.
Aphasia is defined as a disability or impairment in language, whether written, read or spoken. One of the most devastating consequences of TBI is often the partial or complete loss of language. Sufferers are unable to communicate even basic thoughts. Although they know what they want to say, the trauma to the brain has destroyed the neural pathways that make speech possible. People with aphasia may find it difficult to assign names to ordinary objects or to complete simple sentences. Seemingly miraculously, however, they may be able to sing the phrases that elude them in speech.
A Prominent Case
The world reacted with shock when U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot during an assassination attempt in January 2011. Giffords’ injuries included severe brain trauma, and aphasia is one of the side effects that she struggles with to this day. As reported by a Florida head injury attorney the use of music therapy during her lengthy and continuing rehabilitation has made a significant impact on Gifford’s progress and quality of life. From being able to sing only the final word of a familiar musical phrase, she has progressed to the point of singing entire songs. Gifford’s case illustrates the importance of continuing to seek new therapies for TBI patients in the quest for recovery.
Scientific advances in the understanding and treatment of traumatic brain injury enhance the benefits for everyone who struggles with this devastating condition. The beauty of music therapy is that it doesn’t require costly equipment or specialized knowledge to implement. Patients undergoing extensive and stressful speech rehabilitation report that simply listening to familiar music can relax them, and being able to sing along with beloved songs gives them a much-needed sense of accomplishment. People who suffer from mild or occasional aphasia can increase their quality of life by setting common tasks to simple tunes, or by singing phrases when spoken words escape them.