The Power of Music: How Music Therapy is Helping Aphasia Patients Regain the Ability to Speak

The relationship between music and memory is remarkable.

Consider this: Ever notice how you can sing a jingle—word for word—for a laundry detergent commercial you haven’t heard in decades, yet facts, dates or formulas you put hours into memorizing in high school were dropped like a bad habit the minute you completed the test?

How is it that we immediately recognize a song after hearing just a single refrain and can instantly rattle off television show theme songs from our childhood at a moment’s notice?

Even better, ever notice how a piece of music can instantly transform you to another time in your life? Music not only has a habit of staying with us, locked in our memories long after we stopped thinking about it, but it also has the unique ability to evoke memories the minute we hear it.

While the science behind music, memory, and language isn’t conclusive, researchers know that it’s likely a combination of patterns (humans think in terms of patterns), repetition (chances are, we heard those songs we remember so well many, many times), and connections (our brains can better store and retrieve information when it has an association to a memory).

Music Therapy May be the Solution to Stroke Patients Struggling to Recover Their Voice

Aphasia—a communication disorder resulting in a loss or disruption of language or the ability to find the right words—is usually a result of stroke, although people with traumatic brain injuries, progressive neurological disorders, or even brain tumors can experience it.

We know that rehabilitative medicine is important for patients with aphasia, reducing the damage to the patient’s brain and helping the brain recover. One of the more exciting therapies is music therapy—more formally referred to as melodic intonation therapy (MIT) or neurologic music therapy (NMT). It was conceived when rehabilitative practitioners like speech-language pathologists discovered that even when their patients with aphasia couldn’t speak a sentence… they were able to sing it.

Music therapy first involves the singing of simple phrases to familiar music. Frequent repetition of these phrases helps patients turn their sing-song speech into normal speech over time. What’s even more exciting is that most patients maintain the improvements they gained through music therapy, which shows that the brain is capable of repair.

Not All Music Therapy Providers Are the Same

SLPs are uniquely qualified to provide music therapy to patients.

The Certification Board of Music Therapists (CBMT) grants the MT-BC credential to those who have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved college or university… in addition to completing 1,200 hours of clinical training, including a supervised internship… and passing the national board certification examination … However, only SLPs are qualified to assess speech and language disorders in children and adults, including those with aphasia.

SLPs may collaborate with music therapists , but still retain authority in co-treatment as the patient’s primary therapist.

Many SLP programs, both undergraduate and graduate, offer music therapy courses, either as part of the curriculum or as electives. ASHA often offers continuing education seminars and courses in music therapy, and several providers offer online CEU courses in music therapy.

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