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Studying in the Time of COVID...




Well. It's been quite the year so far, hasn't it? I'm hoping that my silence on this blog can be forgiven due to the circumstances of the world at the moment, and please know that when I started this blog, I had the best of intentions to post at least once a month but...you know, things happen. It seems that every day, the news brings more anxiety and worry than the day before, as second waves of COVID hit countries across the world. I consider myself incredibly blessed to be living in a country and state that is doing very well, comparably to elsewhere. However, I still find myself worried about what happens next as things open up, so amidst all the negativity in the world right now, I wanted to share some positive things that I've experienced due to COVID (don't worry, the music therapy stuff is coming soon, I promise).


Firstly, and most recently, Hamilton was released on Disney+ and it was incredible. I have been a fan-girl ever since I first heard the soundtrack over a year ago, and the chance to see it performed by the original Broadway cast was something I thought I'd never see in my lifetime, so that was great. Secondly (and less trivially), the slower pace of life during COVID provided me (and I'm sure many others) the opportunity to rest and see our usual crazy busyness for what it really is - unnecessary and stressful. It also provided the opportunity to reflect on what truly matters in life and gave me clarity on which things I want to pursue and which I can leave behind. From discussions with friends and family, I've heard this sentiment echoed many times, so I guess that's something we can see as a silver lining. Thirdly, I took up painting by numbers during quarantine and it was a great time. I would 10/10 recommend.


Anyway, onto the music therapy stuff. This semester (understandably) was very disrupted and had to undergo a huge change when COVID hit. Luckily for me, most of my course was already online as I'm an interstate student, so it wasn't too much of an adjustment. While the circumstances were not ideal, what I learned this semester has been incredibly interesting so I'm excited to share some of it with you. My first intensive (which I documented in my last post) seems like a literal lifetime ago, and I've learned so much since then that I don't think I'd be able to fit it in one post, so today I'll just share my favourite topic that we learned about this semester, which is the role of music therapy in neuro-rehabilitation.


I've been interested in human biology since I first studied it in high school, so much so that I began a science degree with the hopes of studying genetics. This was short-lived, as I dropped out after a semester to pursue music (no regrets). However, my interest in human biology never waned and I began to incorporate some of my knowledge into my work as a singing teacher to help my students better understand how their voices work. Then I heard about music therapy and I felt like my two passions had finally combined to form a dream job, and now here I am studying for that dream job.


When we began studying neuro-rehabilitation, I found myself completely fascinated by the concept and even elected to write one of my assignments about it. Basically, studies have shown that music has the ability to boost neuro-plasticity in the brain, which is the constant growth of the brain, or rebuilding of damaged parts of the brain. This has been shown to improve and restore cognitive function in patients who have suffered brain injuries due to stroke, degenerative diseases, accidents and other related traumas. Not only that, but music has been shown to be able to improve speech and communication issues in aphasic patients - that is, patients who have suffered a brain injury that leaves them unable to speak or comprehend language. This is due to the way that music making employs many parts of the brain, whereas speech is centralised to one section. This allows music to almost 'override' the damaged section and has seen patients with aphasia able to remember and sing lyrics, even when their speech capabilities are limited.


Neuro-plasticity can be improved by the repetition and focused attention of many activities, not only music, but what makes music so special is the fact that it uses so many parts of the brain in tandem in order for music to be made. What I mean by this is that music making requires coordination of body parts, comprehension of written music, emotional input, as well as regard for timing and rhythm. This results in the brain being engaged across both hemispheres and in many different parts - including both fine and gross motor skills, reading skills, coordination and often, communication skills. This type of stimulation is believed to help neural repair and to help compensate for lost function. Music is also an enjoyable activity, which is part of the reason that it's such a valuable therapy option for people with these conditions - if a patient enjoys their therapy, it seems logical that they are much more likely to engage positively with it and see better results.


I don't know if that fascinates you as much as it does me, but I hope it does. The potential for music therapy in this area is very exciting and if embraced by the medical community, could be a cost-effective way to improve the quality of life of many patients. Obviously, there is so much more information I could share with you, but we'd be here all day talking about it. If you have further questions, comment down below and I will try to answer them - please remember that I am just a student though, and am still learning so take everything I say with a pinch of salt (also check out the references below).


Thanks so much for reading and I hope you're doing well :)


Carolyn


References:


Hegde, S. (2014). Music-based cognitive remediation therapy for patients with traumatic brain injury. Frontiers in Neurology, 5(34). doi:10.3389/fneur.2014.00034

Polk, M., & Kertesz, A. (1993). Music and Language in Degenerative Disease of the Brain. Brain and Cognition, 22(1), 98-117. doi:https://doi.org/10.1006/brcg.1993.1027

98-117. doi:https://doi.org/10.1006/brcg.1993.1027

Schlaug, G. (2015). Chapter 3 - Musicians and music making as a model for the study of brain plasticity. In E. Altenmüller, S. Finger, & F. Boller (Eds.), Progress in Brain Research (Vol. 217, pp. 37-55): Elsevier.

Sihvonen, A. J., Särkämö, T., Leo, V., Tervaniemi, M., Altenmüller, E., & Soinila, S. (2017). Music-based interventions in neurological rehabilitation. The Lancet Neurology, 16(8), 648-660. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(17)30168-0

Siponkoski, S., Martinez-Molina, N., Kuusela, L., Laitinen, S., Holma, M., Ahlfors, M., . . . Sarkamo, T. (2020). Music therapy enhances executive functions and prefrontal structural neuroplasticity after traumatic brain injury: evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Neurotrauma, 37, 618-634. doi:10.1089/neu.2019.6413

Vik, B. M. D., Skeie, G. O., Vikane, E., & Specht, K. (2018). Effects of music production on cortical plasticity within cognitive rehabilitation of patients with mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury