Music and the Brain 1: Cognitive Disorders

*Disclaimer: I am writing this blog as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge - 50,000 words in 30 days. My goals with this and other blogs are to write a total of 50,000 words and to present the brain and learning in a less technical way. I don't know if these blogs will lead to a book, but if they do, I will acknowledge anyone who has commented on my blog (with their permission of course!) Please see my questions at the end of this blog, even if you didn't understand this blog!

For the rest of my NaNoWriMo goal, I want to focus on music and the brain - best known as "Neuromusicology". This is a fairly new field, but in my mind, it's the most exciting.

Those who know me well know I have a very eclectic taste in music. From instrumental to hip hop, pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and country, music calms me down, excites me, reminds me of happy memories, and helps me focus. As it turns out, that's the norm for most people. Granted, those who have an eclectic taste in music are rare, but in my mind, we are a special breed.

Today, I want to focus on how music affects neurological disorders. Yes, music is powerful enough to help the autistic, schizophrenic, those suffering from traumatic brain injuries, and epileptics to name a few. How is this possible? Let's take a look at the research.

Music and Autism
Autism has existed since the 1700s, but the first true diagnosis didn't exist until 1938 as studied by Dr. Hans Asperger. Dr. Asperger studied high functioning autistic children, and as his name indicates the high functioning autistic children were subsequently labeled as having asperger's syndrome. Later, Dr. Leo Kanner furthered the research by studying children who would be classified as autistic rather than having aspergers. The investigation of music therapy on the autistic was first studied in the early 1990s, and researchers found that music improved communication, social interaction, eratic behavior, IQ, self-esteem, attention span, motivation, emotional response, and independence. Of course, music therapy also created a greater appreciation of music. With so many benefits to autistic children, an indirect result was an increased need for music teachers! Psychologists and educators continue to research the effects music on autistic children. Perhaps, one day, they will find a specific type of music cures autism?

Music and Schizophrenia
As early as the 1930s, psychologists studied the effects of art therapy, including music therapy, on institutionalized schizophrenics. The original studies proved to be inconclusive; however as studies continued, psychologists found that while music therapy didn't necessarily change the mental capacity of such patients, it did improve their motivation toward therapy. Studies conducted with those patients who hadn't responded to medications or therapy found the greatest effect on increased desire and response toward the medication and therapy.

Music and Traumatic Brain Injuries
While chronic head banging can contribute to a traumatic brain injury, these injuries can still benefit from music. When medical interventions don't improve cognition in these patients, the non-invasive intervention of music therapy does. Not only does music improve cognition, but music also improves heart rate, social functioning, and mood. There is still limited research in this field, but because findings have been positive, there are multiple avenues for future research.

Music and Epilepsy
Music can both hurt and help epilepsy depending on the patient. A patient with an established musical background finds music to be soothing and can help prevent seizures. Another patient finds listening to certain songs induce seizures, therefore being classified as having musicogenic epilepsy. Musicogenic seizures can also be caused by patients who hallucinate music. If you consider some of the common triggers of seizures - stress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression - it can be easy to understand how music (for those who don't have musicogenic seizures) can benefit from listening to music, especially those songs that trigger happy memories of favorite bands and fellow fans of those same bands.

You've heard the saying, "if it's too loud, you're too old"? I would contend that this statement isn't exactly true. Everyone has their favorite genre of music, or like me, has an eclectic taste in music. If you find that one music is too loud, turn down the volume, or listen to something else!

Medical benefits of music are only one aspect of the wonder of music. Keep reading, and I'll show you how much more amazing music is - no matter what type of music you might listen to!

Words: : 664 -- Cumulative total= 3684/50,000 (does not include disclaimer or questions below)

Questions to my readers:
  • Was this blog too technical or too basic?
  • What did you like best/worst about this blog?
  • What questions did you have about this topic after you finished reading, if any?
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