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.

Understanding Aphasia

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.

Practical Applications

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.

5 responses to “Music and Traumatic Brain Injury”

  1. I have business partners in music and want my copyrighted works published from a lifetime of hard work.Cox,Osborn,Gallovich,Mcnally,Smith,Percouco,Needham,Steiger,other names and Colman.All this music has been in California and I’m 45 started playing when I was eight.people are going to like our songs if the material gets out there I know it.I believe in todays industry to make that happen and can be reached at 707-502-0446.Alex Cima,Arbuckle,facebook friends people in community I love you all thanks to immediate family and Bruce billings too.

  2. Richard Johnson says:

    Music was & still is the key for my recovery. Aphasia was mainly my “big” issue, but short-term memory was my second issue. To help with my short-term memory I bought myself a mandolin. I never played an instrument before, but love the sounds of a mandolin, so I thought “why not?” Found an instructor, explained I survived a TBI, and started to learn. Trying to remember how: finger & strum a chord, how to play part 1 of a song then part 2, practicing 1 to 1 1/2 hours a day, etc… It’s been a year now & my short-term memory is getting better every day. I do believe that music is God’s gift to humankind.

  3. Marilyn Lash says:

    It’s always a source of amazement how complex the brain is. It is really unfortunate that music therapy is often one of the first programs affected by budget cuts or disallowed by insurance companies. The benefits and joy of music therapy are evident in the personal testimony of many survivors of brain injury.

  4. Dan says:

    I suffered a severe TBI and in the long process of recovery, music slowly seeped into and then flooded my mind as I relearned everything else with a broken body. I now write/sing/and play my songs, though I never had music therapy. I definitely attest to music’s help.

  5. Patrick, you are so right!

    Music played–and continues to play–a vital part in my recovery from a 1976 TBI. My CD player is alive w/ classical music from morning to bedtime.

    One of the chapters in “Brain Injury Recovery for Survivors: A Lifeline to New Connections” (Idyll Arbor, 2010) features “Chart Your Heart,” which is a way to determine how to fit music to your moods and activities.

    For more info, go to and visit your library to read my books. (A companion volume for loved ones is also available). Then buy them, preferably from me so I earn the $ and not Amazon!

    Rewire on!
    Carolyn Dolen

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