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May 21st, 2009
Music and Medicine
Music Therapy for Neurological Conditions

Concetta Tomaino, a pioneer in the field of music therapy, explains the exciting things we can learn about human cognition and music and how this can be applied to treat certain neurological disorders.

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Concetta Tomaino, D.A., MT-BC, LCAT: One of the reasons, and one of the exciting reasons, why music therapy has so much promise for people with neurological conditions is that music accesses the networks in the brain in a complementary faction (fashion) or differently than the function that a person has lost. And what I mean by that is we can stimulate the timing mechanisms, we can stimulate word finding ability, we can stimulate recognition memory, even short-term memory function through using music in a specific way that makes available to these patients function in the brain that’s still there but maybe they can’t get at independently because of the inhibition that has taken place due to their brain injury.

So music is an enriched sensory stimulus that allows for, I believe, the disinhibition of some of the inhibited function that has been lost in these individuals. And by stimulating these complementary or parallel networks, we see this type of ability come back.

  • Annie Jacs

    I have always felt a closeness to music. It’s interesting to find this relationship between brain injury & music now, since my trauma occured 43 years ago.
    Just last year I learned ballroom dancing. I may not be able to walk straight, but I can dance.

  • carlos A. Boyce Jr.

    As a drummer that was paralyzed once, Drs gave up on the belief that i would function normally, Now as a teacher and performer , I can now do 4 way coordination independence and since my education classes learning and the brain , I can identify clearly which part of the brain is stimulated and what part of my limbs are responding.
    As a teacher this is a great miracle.

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  • Deborah

    I have a friend who had a stroke (not his first), but a series of them and has no short-term memory to speak of, thinks it’s ten years ago, He used to sing in the church choir with me, so I know there are music memories in there. How do you use music to access memory? Is there something we as a choir could try that wouldn’t be risky? Please help. Thanks.

  • Casey

    @Deborah, I encourage you to connect with a Neurologic Music Therapist for consultation. It is difficult to make treatment recommendations without a formal assessment of your friend and his stroke related deficits, however, there is much research to support the use of rhythm and music for the rehabilitation of stroke. You may find that you are able to offer him an encouragement and a successful experience with language by singing, rhythmically, with him. Choose songs from his adolescence or other songs that he may have a strong musical response to. Don’t be surprised if he is able to sing, but not speak. A trained neurologic music therapist can work with him to optimize this brain/body connection.


    My wife has been diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia (5 yrs ago), She has received speech/language therapy. Even though she has been fully dedicated to this therapy she kept losing her ability to coherently express coupled with losing ability to comprehend what is being said to her. She has had numerous MRI’s; none of them indicated trauma to her brain. Have you any research in music therapy and Primary Progressive Aphasia?

    Thank you.

  • Anna Resendiz

    Ruben, There has been a lot done with aphasia and music therapy. I hope you find the right person to help your wife. I live in Arizona…Anna MT-BC

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