Therapeutic effects of music
Who hasn’t ever turned on the music while driving so as not to fall asleep? Who hasn’t tried to learn something by heart by singing it to a tune? In recent years, research on the therapeutic effects of music on the brain is becoming more and more frequent. The clinical observation of certain benefits arouses the curiosity of many, who begin to investigate the neurological bases that may underlie such results.
The most outstanding studies are those of patients with motor deficits, either due to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) or a stroke. In the former, it is observed that music facilitates walking by generating rhythmiccues which help with movement coordination. It also appears that, in addition to some motor areas, certain structures such as the cerebellum and the basal ganglia—responsiblefor the execution of automated movements—are involved in rhythm processing. In patients with upper limb impairments, there is an improvement in arm movements when they play a certain instrument overa period of time. The most plausible hypotheses point to the importance of the auditory feedback generated by this activity, which informs the patient at all times of the quality of the movement performed.
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Music and language
In addition, several studies have shown that music can be used to facilitate speech production. While many aphasic patients lose their ability to speak, they nonetheless preserve their singing, indicating the existence of different mechanisms for both processes.However, some data suggest that the pronunciation of wordscan improve with the use ofa simple melody, so there must be some correlation. In children with autism spectrum syndrome, music seems to promote social interaction and communication skills. This has also been observedin other communication disorders.
It has also been observed on numerous occasions, both in clinical settings and in real life, that music can influence the ability to pay attention to certain stimuli, either by promoting or inhibiting it, depending on rhythm and tone. The relaxing effect of music seems to be due to the perception of musical consonance, which is part of our life from the moment the fetus synchronizes with its mother’s heartbeat.
Music and Alzheimer’s
On the other hand, it has been found that in patients with dementia such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s, musical memory may be spared until the very late stages of the disease, so that in a large number of patients, music is one of the few stimuli that elicit responses in addition to also generating certain emotions in them (observable in their physiological responses), possibly by the association with earlier stages of their lives.
Regarding the emotional mechanism involved in music processing, the participation of the nucleus accumbens—the brain’s pleasure center and an important component of a major dopaminergic pathway—seems essential, since this structure isresponsible for functions such as reward or positive behavioral reinforcement.
Much research suggests that it is this emotional effect that could be behind all the other beneficial effects by generating motivationamong patients, thereby helping them to achieve other therapeutic goals. However, it appears as wellthat music processing produces certain neurological effects that promote the implementation of other skills. For this reason, more research is needed on this subject, to be able to explain specifically the phenomena experiencedwhile listening to music.
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