Music therapy rewires the brains of people unable to speak

Feb 23, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Brain

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists are for the first time studying a speech therapy technique called Melodic Intonation Therapy to find out what happens in patients’ brains. The therapy is used to teach people who have aphasia (inability to speak) after suffering a stroke to speak, and makes use of the fact that many people who cannot talk can still sing.

When patients suffer a on the left hemisphere of the brain it affects their ability to speak, but melodic intonation therapy attempts to tap into the right side of the brain if it is undamaged. Music affects many parts of the brain in both hemispheres, and it influences motor skills, emotions and hearing. If the affected person is taught to sing sentences, they can then learn to speak them.

Harvard University neurologist Professor Gottfried Schlaug is leading to try to find out why the technique works for many people even when other forms of speech therapy have failed. In the study he took images of the brains of patients before the therapy and again afterwards, and discovered there are structural and functional changes in the right side of the brain, with the patients essentially “rewiring” their brains as they learn to use the singing center in the right instead of the speech center in the left.

Many patients who have not been able to speak, in some cases for many years, and who have tried other speech therapies with no success, have learned to speak after a few dozen sessions of melodic intonation therapy. Even after a single session most stroke victims can learn to say a simple phrase by combining a note in the melody with each syllable, and even one phrase can make them less dependent and frustrated.

Schlaug spoke about the technique at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in San Diego earlier this week. He said he thought the reason the therapy is not used more widely is at least in part because many people are embarrassed when asked to sing, and some therapists may feel uncomfortable singing to their patients. Some patients, especially males, can also struggle with embarrassment. Once they start, Schlaug said, they settle in and the therapy is simple. His next goal is to teach the technique to care givers.

Explore further: How various brain areas interact in decisions

Related Stories

Unlocking the brain after stroke

Sep 23, 2008

University of Queensland research is set to unlock the regions of the brain central to successful language treatment following a stroke.

New research reclaims the power of speech

Apr 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A UQ researcher has revealed a new treatment for a speech disorder that commonly affects those who have suffered a stroke or brain injury.

New technology helps Parkinson's patients speak louder

Aug 25, 2009

Researchers have developed a new technology that helps Parkinson's patients overcome the tendency to speak too quietly by playing a recording of ambient sound, which resembles the noisy chatter of a restaurant ...

Recommended for you

How various brain areas interact in decisions

54 minutes ago

Our decisions can be pictured in the brain. Scientists at the University of Zurich were able to show in a recent study which areas are most active in decision making. Often the so-called prefrontal cortex ...

Researchers identify receptors activated by odors

3 hours ago

A group of physiologists led by University of Kentucky's Tim McClintock have identified the receptors activated by two odors using a new method that tracks responses to smells in live mice.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.