Music therapy rewires the brains of people unable to speak

February 23, 2010 by Lin Edwards, Medical Xpress report
Brain

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists are for the first time studying a speech therapy technique called Melodic Intonation Therapy to find out what happens in patients’ brains. The therapy is used to teach people who have aphasia (inability to speak) after suffering a stroke to speak, and makes use of the fact that many people who cannot talk can still sing.

When patients suffer a on the left hemisphere of the brain it affects their ability to speak, but melodic intonation therapy attempts to tap into the right side of the brain if it is undamaged. Music affects many parts of the brain in both hemispheres, and it influences motor skills, emotions and hearing. If the affected person is taught to sing sentences, they can then learn to speak them.

Harvard University neurologist Professor Gottfried Schlaug is leading to try to find out why the technique works for many people even when other forms of speech therapy have failed. In the study he took images of the brains of patients before the therapy and again afterwards, and discovered there are structural and functional changes in the right side of the brain, with the patients essentially “rewiring” their brains as they learn to use the singing center in the right instead of the speech center in the left.

Many patients who have not been able to speak, in some cases for many years, and who have tried other speech therapies with no success, have learned to speak after a few dozen sessions of melodic intonation therapy. Even after a single session most stroke victims can learn to say a simple phrase by combining a note in the melody with each syllable, and even one phrase can make them less dependent and frustrated.

Schlaug spoke about the technique at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Diego earlier this week. He said he thought the reason the therapy is not used more widely is at least in part because many people are embarrassed when asked to sing, and some therapists may feel uncomfortable singing to their patients. Some patients, especially males, can also struggle with embarrassment. Once they start, Schlaug said, they settle in and the therapy is simple. His next goal is to teach the technique to care givers.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New type of vertigo identified

May 23, 2018
Neurologists have identified a new type of vertigo with no known cause, according to a study published in the May 23, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In a break with dogma, myelin boosts neuron growth in spinal cord injuries

May 23, 2018
Recovery after severe spinal cord injury is notoriously fraught, with permanent paralysis often the result. In recent years, researchers have increasingly turned to stem cell-based therapies as a potential method for repairing ...

Leg exercise is critical to brain and nervous system health

May 23, 2018
Groundbreaking research shows that neurological health depends as much on signals sent by the body's large, leg muscles to the brain as it does on directives from the brain to the muscles. Published today in Frontiers in ...

Changes to specific MicroRNA involved in development of Lou Gehrig's disease

May 23, 2018
A new Tel Aviv University study identifies a previously unknown mechanism involved in the development of Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The research focuses on a specific microRNA whose levels ...

Study confirms that men and women tend to adopt different navigation strategies

May 23, 2018
When navigating in a known environment, men prefer to take shortcuts to reach their destination more quickly, while women tend to use routes they know. This is according to Alexander Boone of UC Santa Barbara in the US who ...

Memory molecule limits plasticity by calibrating calcium

May 23, 2018
The brain has an incredible capacity to support a lifetime of learning and memory. Each new experience fundamentally alters the connections between cells in the brain called synapses. To accommodate synaptic alterations, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.