Music and healing the brain

October 7, 2009 3:44:20 PM PDT
Music is proving to be great medicine, and it's helping some patients recover memory loss. There's a program that uses iPods loaded with a patient's favorite music, and the results are remarkable.

Sean Dawkins had a gunshot wound to the head. He loves Gospel music. Marie Serrano is an amputee with blood vessel disease of the brain. She loves Salsa. Everett Dixon has had a genetically-caused stroke. He loves Reggae.

They all share memory problems. They also share a way to get memory back - their music. Their iPods and a music therapy group at the Beth Abraham Adult Day Health Care Program.

Ariel Weissberg runs the 45-minute group twice a week. Members receive iPods for those days, filled with their favorite music. They play songs for one another. Each responded emotionally to his or her own favorites, but what that triggered was remarkable.

"It brings memories, back on 225th, my mother played this constantly over and over," Dixon said. "She being in Jamaica, this was her uplifting, this was her joy."

"I remember when I was in a wheelchair, and I was mad I couldn't do the things i want to do," Dawkins said.

The music stirred up emotions, linked to memories. It's no surprise that it works.

Meaningful memories are never lost, just difficult to bring to mind because of brain damage or Alzheimer's. A familiar song can trigger those important memories. It can bring patients back to their loved ones and care givers, even if it's for just a moment. Music brings up emotions locked forever to memory.

"I think that the core of who we are is an emotional core, and it's resistant to all the losses of Alzheimer's," said Dr Steven Sparr, a neurologist at Beth Abraham. "Music provides a portal into that emotional core."

Experts say that with modern brain imaging, they can actually see that music memories are stored all over the brain, not in just one area. There are studies showing that memories brought back with music can slow the progression,and even improve some types of memory loss.



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