Brain injuries can be devastating. Fortunately, the human brain is an incredibly dynamic organ, capable of redefining itself by shifting tasks from damaged areas to healthy areas. In recent years, it has become clear that neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to reconfigure itself and relearn tasks, is greater than previously thought. Researchers are actively working to find ways to boost neuroplasticity to not only increase rates of healing, but to help patients recover more fully and lead fuller lives.
Science has long known that music therapy is a good way to improve results following brain injury. In recent years, however, scientists have begun to explore just how music therapy works. What they have found is providing new insight into how the brain works and how the brain can be hacked, in a sense, to heal itself.
Why Does Music Help Injured Brains?
Music, as it turns out, can reach certain parts of the brain that other things (stimuli) cannot. Scientists have found that once these areas of the brain are accessed by music, they can then be trained to do things that were previously done by injured areas. Once these tasks are learned, they can be moved to another region of the brain, so that they can be performed without the need for a musical stimulus. It’s like music is the key to unlocking hidden areas of the brain, making it possible to improve recovery following neurologic injury.
A good example of this is speech. Our ability to speak is controlled by a very specific part of the brain. If that area is damaged, we lose the ability to form words. Learning to speak after brain injury is notoriously difficult, but music therapy can improve speech clarity, the ability to form words, and the ability to add emotional tone to language.
Who Can Music Help?
Most of the research carried out over the last decade has focused on stroke and dementia, but there is growing evidence to suggest that music is beneficial in many types of brain illness. Positive effects on thinking, movement, speech, and emotional well-being have been seen in Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. There is also research supporting the benefit of music in ADHD and other disruptions of behavior rooted in the brain.
The Tandem Effect of brain healing.
Music alone is effective in helping people overcome brain injury, but it is even more effective when used in conjunction with other standard and alternative therapies. For instance, music therapy is highly effective when combined with rhythmic light therapy and other mechanisms for addressing emotional expression.
Thymosin Alpha-1 peptide being researched to help heal brain injuries.
In recent years, scientists have begun investigating how peptides (short proteins) derived from naturally occurring proteins might be used to boost brain healing. The peptide thymosin alpha-1 has been found, in animal studies, to improve the growth of brain cells and reduce levels of hormones known to limit the formation of connections between areas of the brain. Supplementing animals with thymosin alpha-1 has been shown to increase brain development and help protect the brain from injury caused by lack of oxygen. There is some hope that this peptide, or a derivative, may one day be used in combination with current therapies to improve rates of recovery and boost outcomes in neurologic rehabilitation.
Learn about Thymosin Alpha-1 research;
Thymosin Alpha-1 is not yet approved by the FDA for human use.
Music Heals the brain.
The bottom line is that music heals. This is hardly new knowledge. What the new research is revealing, however, is that specific types of music can be used to selectively access otherwise unreachable parts of the brain. By teaching these new areas to take over for damaged regions, people are healing faster and recovering more fully than they would without music therapy. The science of music therapy is only in its infancy with a very exciting future ahead.