Music therapy helps people unlocks memories, regain abilities

A growing body of research is proving how important sound is, as more doctors and therapists use music to help people with dementia, depression and even mobility issues.

At Eden Health Care Services in Pilot Mound, Manitoba, residents gather regularly in a semi-circle for some music therapy, conducted by Joel Klassen.

Some patients move and say very little outside of these musical 45-minute sessions.

“It’s difficult to put into words what’s happening, but I think that’s the way with music,” Klassen tells Global National‘s Crystal Goomansingh.

“Every human has an innate musicality. Even someone who claims to not be a singer.”

While music therapy isn’t very common, awareness is growing. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Congresswoman shot in the head in January 2011, worked with a music therapist to re-learn how to talk after being shot.

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In this instance, Giffords struggled to say words at first, but was able to sing them well.

But the sessions didn’t just help Giffords find her voice again – she regained her spirit too.

“I can be confident that an upbeat song with a friendly beat will get each of them involved,” Klassen says, recalling several success stories, including getting one woman – who would barely utter a word – to tap her toes along to the music.

“I’ve had people dancing together. A husband and wife dancing together that hadn’t done that in years. I have had people singing hymns that they used to sing when their kids were small – that they hadn’t sung for 10 years.”

Patients are physically – and mentally – present and participating, unknowingly working on their memory recall, and motor skills as well.

“Any kind of physical movement I can stimulate, that I can prompt,” says Klassen. “When you see Andrew there without much movement in his arms, he can be tapping along that will help with blood flow and overall sense of being and he can contribute.”

Research has shown the therapy can help people with brain injuries – suffering from conditions such as strokes or Parkinson’s – learn how to walk again and regain a sense of balance. The brain learns the song’s rhythm, getting a sense of timing, and anticipates when to take a step with each beat.

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While scientists still haven’t figured out exactly how music therapy benefits people, one possible explanation is that various parts of the brain process music.

The therapy – not the performance necessarily – is getting rave reviews. “I have a number of cases where music therapy is the only activity that they will come out of their bedroom for,” Klassen says.

Clyde Wilson says, “I enjoyed it. I could sit all day and listen to it.”

Lynn Hughson agrees. “It just cheers you right up.”

Klassen is very pleased with the results. “It’s a wonderful position to be in and to know you’re making a difference on so many levels. They’re communicating with each other so I’m fostering that social aspect. They’re getting a little bit of exercise and seeing people having memories of days gone by, the whole package is just a wonderful thing.”

“I think words fall short in describing what happens in music therapy.”

Klassen was trained in Scotland years ago. There are currently six centres across Canada offering music therapy courses.

Follow Crystal on Twitter: @cgoomansingh