Recovering with the Help of Neurologic Music Therapy
If you’ve ever experienced a serious illness or injury, then you know that in these challenging situations, all you desperately want is to recover: to feel like yourself again, to be able to do all the things you used to do with ease and to get back to spending your time with friends and family doing the things you love. In the rehabilitation program at Grand River Hospital’s Freeport Campus, music therapy makes a tremendous difference for patients working towards these goals on their road to recovery.
Sophia Christopher is a music therapist at the hospital who specializes in neurologic rehabilitation and works with the patients in our Continuum of Care programs, specifically those on the rehabilitation and geriatrics units. One of her first patient experiences on the rehabilitation unit was working with an individual who had been in a car accident and sustained a serious traumatic brain injury. His walking was very unsteady, and because of his brain injury, he also experienced a visual impairment that made it challenging for him to engage in traditional rehabilitation techniques because he couldn’t see the physiotherapy equipment or navigate through the room independently.
Preferring to work collaboratively to support the various aspects of a patient’s recovery, Sophia will join a patient's physiotherapy sessions alongside the hospital’s physiotherapists, noting that she tends to see the best results for patients when she works together with others. In physiotherapy, for instance, incorporating instruments and specific neurologic music therapy techniques into a patient’s sessions can be used to improve their reach, abdominal support, motor function and movements and even help someone walk again.
“When we think of a healthy brain, we naturally move in a rhythmical pattern. So, when we’re walking down the street, we have this one, two, one, two step,” Sophia explained, describing the rhythm. She noted that when someone isn’t experiencing these internal cues because of their injury, music can stimulate the brain through the recovery process.
“If the motor area of the brain is impaired, then we can use an external auditory cue, like the beat of a song, to hijack the brain. This auditory cue provides an internal rhythm, and without much training, it can lead to improved walking patterns,” she elaborated about one of the ways she uses music to help patients regain their motor abilities.
Sophia’s patient made significant progress much more quickly than expected, and after only 10 days of working together, he was ready for discharge and could continue his recovery at a facility in the community. This is the magic of strong collaboration between music therapy and physiotherapy and a great example of the significant difference it can make for patients during the recovery process.
Neurologic music therapy is a speciality in music therapy that’s based on evidence from neuroscience research related to music and the brain’s perception of music. It focuses on helping patients improve their abilities in three areas: sensory and movement, speech and language, and cognition.
In neurologic music therapy, music therapists use the elements of music, such as the beat, rhythm, tempo or instrumentation to help the brain move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas. This process is known as functional neuroplasticity, and using music therapy in this way helps patients recover skills and abilities that have been lost or diminished because of a stroke or traumatic brain injury, for example.
“What’s really cool is that we actually [have] all these research studies that show [its effectiveness],” said Sophia of neurologic music therapy as a tool for rehabilitation. She added that because music is one of the few interventions that engage the whole brain simultaneously, it can fast-track the recovery process.
“There’s so much science behind it,” she continued, emphasizing that, “neurologic music therapy [is] very different than music therapy in a mental health setting or music psychotherapy.”
Beyond its incredible capability to help rewire the brain, music therapy also plays an important role in patients’ motivation. Motivation is truly key to recovery, and the motivation someone gains from engaging in music therapy can also increase their motivation to engage in other therapies and the overall recovery process.
“If [they’re] not motivated to move, if [they’re] not motivated to engage then that can limit their overall progress,” Sophia noted.
Incorporating music therapy techniques that are fun and engaging while also being rehab-focused is a good way to promote progress and motivation all at once—the more motivated an individual becomes, the more connected, engaged and willing they typically become in all of the aspects of the recovery process.
“What we see is, again, this increased motivation to participate in the group … and then they’re more social, they’re engaging, and they’re talking to [the] therapists,” Sophia explained. “I think that is common among all music therapists as well.”
Continuum of Care programs, like those on the geriatrics and rehabilitation units, bring health professionals from across disciplines together to provide specialized treatment and care for patients at all of the stages of illness, injury and recovery, including those who live with chronic or complex health conditions. No matter where on the continuum someone’s health care needs fall, Grand River Hospital will offer the best possible care every step of the way, and music therapy is an important part of ensuring this high-level of care for our parents and grandparents, friends and family, and all of the people we love. This Music Therapy Awareness Month, please visit our website to learn more about and support the hospital’s music therapy program.