Music therapy is being used to treat advanced dementia and Parkinsons disease.

Watch John’s response to music. 

Video via ABC iView

John struggles to walk.

His feet freeze every couple of steps, seemingly stuck to the ground.

His frustration is palpable.

That is until the music starts.

On Tuesday night’s episode of Catalyst, we met John who suffers from Parkinsons disease. The condition results in a lack of dopamine in the brain, impairing control over movement and balance.

When the music began to play, it was as though John had been electrified and freed from a body that was betraying him. Indeed, ‘reawakened’ seems like the perfect word.

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He danced, uninhibited entirely by his neurological condition. It was scientifically remarkable, but more than that, deeply touching. Professor Meg Morris could not help but remark how “incredibly beautiful” it was to watch.

Catalyst’s“Music on the brain’ presented us with a growing field of research, which claims that music can be used to mitigate pain and re-awaken the brains of people with advanced dementia and Parkinsons disease.

The program ultimately asked “If, toward the end of your life, your mind and memories were fading away, would a soundtrack help bring them back?”

The affect music has on our emotional state is well documented. We know that music is cognitively engaging and has the potential to increase pain tolerance, particularly if the music is familiar. What is new, however, is the body of research that suggests music can re-stimulate parts of the brain that have begun to deteriorate. Such a discovery is nothing short of groundbreaking.

Music can re-stimulate parts of the brain. Image via ABC iView.

 

Catalyst proposed that during the stages of our evolution, our brains have become innately responsive to music. The potentialities of that are only just now being uncovered. In the case of John it was visible that music therapy can help people who are "freezing in space to unfreeze and move."

As for Alzheimer's disease, Aged Care homes such as Redleaf Manor have taken on new forms of therapy such as the Music and Memory Project. Family and carers find that after listening to music, patients who were formerly unable to converse, can coherently communicate.

Unlike any other forms of stimulus, music arouses and excites most of our brain. Furthermore, its relationship with emotion, and emotion's unbreakable tie with memory, means that music and memory share a symbiotic connection.

Even when the brain begins to deteriorate, the bond between music and memory perseveres.

Something as simple and pleasant as music could be the key to treating some of our most debilitating neurological conditions.

 

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