Ancient Greek philosophers believed that music had a therapeutic purpose — including to treat depression, mania and even hangovers. In the Native American culture, music has played a similar role: In fact, the U.S. Indian Bureau contains 1,500 songs used for healing purposes. During the fallout of World Wars I and II, musicians traveled to hospitals to play for the thousands of veterans who were suffering both physical and emotional trauma. Their positive responses led medical facilities to begin hiring musicians, and before long, it became clear that these individuals would need some additional training to fully leverage the healing power of music.
Today, that power is finally starting to be better leveraged thanks to the evolution of Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT): the therapeutic application of musical components to address cognitive, sensory and motor dysfunctions. In recent years, NMT has progressed rapidly primarily due to advancements in brain-imaging technologies, which have revealed the brain’s plasticity (its ability to change) and also the different networks in the brain that music can activate. Meanwhile, a growing body of research has emerged showing that NMT can help patients affected by a range of conditions including stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s dementia, traumatic brain injury and Multiple Sclerosis.
According to a report by Michael H. Thaut at Colorado State University, a study of patients with MS showed that word lists were significantly better learned and recalled when presented and rehearsed via song as opposed to standard spoken presentation and rehearsal. Another study showed improvement in executive function and overall emotional adjustment as well as lessening of depression and anxiety among brain-injured persons treated with NMT. In a pilot study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the effects of all three NMT techniques combined were shown to significantly improve gait and the sense of body position and movement in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
MedRhythms — a neuro-rehab company based out of Boston and Portland, Maine — focuses on this intersection between music, neuroscience, and technology, offering therapy to both individuals in their homes and medical facilities. And now that the company is offering its services throughout New England, CEO/co-founder Brian Harris estimates MedRhythms is treating between 400-500 patients a year.
Launched at the end of 2014, MedRhythms’ team has doubled since last July — and Harris indicated that over the next few months, it will likely be growing exponentially quicker. In January, MedRhythms forged a key contract with the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, where they are providing their inpatient and outpatient NMT program — the most comprehensive of its kind in the country.
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