Can Music Aid Patients Recovering from Actue Brain Injury?

I recently met up with a friend of mine who is a music teacher and as we chatted she began to tell me about one of her students.  Unexpectedly, an amazing story unfolded about a young woman whose life was marred by tragedy.

The student was a vibrant 19 year old who had a passion for horses.  A passion that unfortunately led to a tragic accident.  The young woman, let’s call her Sara, received a serious head injury leaving her in a coma for over 7 months.

While much of the detail of Sara’s condition from a medical standpoint is unknown, what is known is that her parents dutifully kept her ipod charged and plugged into her ears throughout her stay in the hospital.

My friend came to know Sara upon her exit from the hospital.  For students that are unable to attend school due to serious debilitation, a program called Home Hospital is available in some areas (it happens to be available in Martinez, CA; Contra Costa County) where a certified Teacher comes into the home to work with these students.  The program required no advanced certification beyond that of a Teacher’s credentials and could serve handicapped students with any number of afflictions.

In the case of Sara, my friend was asked to come into the home and work on simple rehabilitation-focused activities.  At best, my friend was told, Sara may regain the ability to perform some simple self grooming tasks.

During one session Sara surprised my friend when she uttered the words “money honey”.  Over several sessions these words were repeated and not knowing the meaning my friend was telling the story to a friend, who immediately recognized the words as being from a song by Lady Gaga.  Sensing an opportunity to engage Sara, my friend played the song in question and Sara surprisingly knew every word.

Here was a person who could barley communicate and only had partial use of her left arm.  Now, Sara was demonstrating perfect recall of the lyrics of the songs that had been played in her ears all those long months in the coma.  Sara was even able to complete lyrical phrases when the first portion was spoken. As time went on, Sara’s progress continued on a startling pace making the original predictions of being able to perform simple tasks as an simple underestimation.

In addition to the music-based therapy, my friend was lucky enough to be in contact with individuals who specialize in treating patients recovering from acute brain injury and was soon in possession of materials and resources to further enhance the sessions.  Surely a combination of different therapies and techniques and other care givers all culminated in a better-than-expected recovery timeline.

However, I couldn’t tear myself away from the possibility of a link between memory and recovery of speech and other motor skills.  Hence, we come to the question at the heart of this article:

Can Music Aid Patients Recovering from Acute Brain Injury?

If playing music post-injury, during coma-like scenarios can be recalled in the months following then perhaps memory can tell us more about how the brain works during recovery.  I keep thinking about Sara and others like her wondering if simulation of the mind directly after injury does something miraculous, even if it is still unrecognized.

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