Last fall, I completed the Neurologic Music Therapy Training Institute in Boston, MA. I learned specifically how the brain responds to music and how to use that information to target brain rehabilitation for people with neurologic disease or brain injury. I knew that this understanding would have a positive impact on the populations I serve here in Reno, but I didn’t know the broad range of experiences I would encounter.
Serious Traumatic brain injury at Renown
Shortly after my training, I learned about a patient at Renown Children’s Hospital who had a gunshot wound to the head. He almost died, and the doctors warned that his speech and motor abilities may never be regained. He lay motionless for weeks, but to everyone’s surprise, he began to track movement with his eyes and he began to speak fluently. After hearing about his condition, I advocated to hospital staff and his family to be allowed to work with him. I now knew about the way that rhythm stimulates motor function in the brain, and that there was a chance this could help.
When I entered the room, the boy was awake and made eye contact with me. I introduced myself, he said hello, and I asked if he would like to hear a song. His speech and memory were both intact but when I asked if he could move his arms or legs or head, he said no. After asking about his musical preferences I decided to play “Firework” by Katy Perry. I sang the song slower than it’s usually sung, and I sang as though each word was meant for him. His grandmother entered the room and started singing with me. As we both sang to him, tears streamed down his face. And when I finished the song, he reached up with his right arm to wipe away his tears. He smiled and cried and then said that he felt very tired. He thanked me for coming and agreed to have me return.
On the next visit, I handed him an egg shaker. He had some difficulty grasping it but with a determined look on his face, he tried and tried until he could grasp the shaker. I sang “shake it off” by Taylor Swift, and he shook the shaker, dropping it at times, but working hard to pick it back up. His motor movement was improving and the music motivated him to try. The next time I came, he was lying on a floor mat doing physical therapy. He began to cry and asked if he could stop. The physical therapist agreed, as they had been working for some time before I had come. His family picked him up and sat him in a chair. He could hold his head up, but his arms and legs were still difficult for him to move and control. I gave him a paddle drum mallet and paddle, and his family cheered him on. He grasped both, with difficulty, and the mallet kept falling out of his grasp. He tried with all of his might to move his right arm across his body to his left arm to hit the mallet. You would have thought he was trying to move a 100 pound rock based on the focused effortful look on his face. His whole family cheered and joked “I’ll give you 5 dollars if you hit the drum!” He eventually crossed his body with his right arm and hit the drum, and the mallet fell from his hands. His family erupted in cheering.
After this session, the boy moved to another rehabilitation facility where I could no longer work with him. But I had witnessed how motivating the music became for this boy who was, beyond the odds, recovering his ability to move his body.
Neurologic music therapy is suitable for many different neurologic diagnoses
The implications of neurologic music therapy go far beyond what I witnessed and experienced on the days I worked with this boy. Rhythm helps our brains organize movement and can be used to help people recover their ability to walk with a steady gait after brain injury, stroke, or other neurological disorders. Here is a video showing the profound effects that just one neurologic music therapy session had on a man with Parkinson’s disease.
Check out our page of NMT here.
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