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Music is medicine to brain

The effectiveness of chemical therapy improves significantly when mixed with a dose of music according to a study on stroke patients conducted in Finland. Music that connects emotionally with a listener is particularly potent, say the authors of the study.

A unique interdisciplinary team composed of neuro-imaging specialist Christof Karmonik, composer Anthony Brandt of Rice University, neurologic music therapist Julie Lytle, and physiologist/researcher Forrest Brooks, spent many months tracking the effect of music on stroke stricken brains.

Volunteers identified songs that they were emotionally connected to. For example: “Happy Birthday” or “Four Five Seconds” by Rihanna. Songs with emotional connection tended to be popular vocals. Even as the volunteer jived to the music, their brains were scanned by an imaging specialist using an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine. The fMRI image turned bright red and orange when music that had an emotional appeal was played like Downtown Abbey. These are colors indicating increased blood and oxygen flow.

The volunteers were then treated to music they had never listened to before like a composition by J.S. Bach. The experiments showed that familiar songs lit up parts the brain tied to emotion and memory, while the unfamiliar Bach number illuminated parts of the brain that are tied to attention and other regions not related to emotions. The scans showed the team how different brain regions communicate with each other under the influence of music.

The findings are therapeutically significant as in the case of stroke patients it is important to increase the flow of blood to areas of lesion. By playing a particular type of music, physicians may be able to achieve this. Going forward doctors may actually be prescribing a ‘course’ of musical numbers—
a mix of different kinds of songs, familiar and unfamiliar to be heard four or five times a day.

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