Music Therapy and the Brain

Music Therapy and the Brain

Board Certified Music Therapist Katelyn Blankenburg and Owner of Texas Music Therapy Services is discussing music therapy and how it affects the brain.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the evidence based practice of using music to address non-musical goals including motor skills, cognitive skills, coping skills and more.

Katelyn is also a Board Certified Neurological Music Therapist which involves looking directly at how music affects brain functioning. Music therapy also includes performing assessments, coming up with treatment plans and discharge planning.

Music therapy is for all ages; from premature babies all the way to senior adults and through end of life care. Music therapy can help improve communication skills.

“We can work with people who have survived a stroke,” Katelyn said. “We can work with people who have procedural anxiety, they have decreased movement or cognition or communication skills due to an illness, traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities, acute and chronic pain, as well as anxiety or depression.”

Music therapy can help with cognitive skills by improving thought processing, maintaining memories, memory recall, decision making and executive functioning. Speech can be improved by oral motor coordination, breath control, as well as encouraging bonding and alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.

“Even people who have advanced stage Alzheimer’s or dementia can still recognize songs from their early adulthood, as well as their childhood, which is really amazing,” Katelyn said.

Music affects people emotionally and physically. It can help to relax and ease aggressive behaviors, be a stress reliever and just help process emotions in general. In some cases music therapy has also been used to improve movement.

“With a thing called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation you can help to even out that gate pattern,” Katelyn said. “Whether you had a stroke, or a traumatic brain injury, or you have Parkinson’s or other motor physical deficits. Your brain is going to respond to the rhythmic stimulus that we are giving you, and it’s going to help even out that gate pattern and make it safer for you to walk.”

Q&A with Katelyn

How does music therapy help seniors with memory loss?

“Music because it activates multiple parts of the brain at one time, it means it gets into those memories pretty deep. We are formed in a rhythmic environment, in utero, you’re hearing the mother’s heartbeat the minute the ears are formed, and so as you grow you associate memory with those songs you hear the most.” Music Therapist Katelyn Blankenburg

“I’ve had sessions where at the beginning of the session we were very disoriented, we don’t know where we are, we don’t know what’s going on. We sing a couple of those songs from growing up and at the end of the session we’re totally back to where we know we are in this moment, we know we are at home, we know we are with whoever we are with, we know who I am and who you are. It’s amazing.”

Is there a specific type of music that works best for therapy? 

“It’s definitely client preferred. So, if you’re loved one really loves Metallica, then we are going to go in there and play Metallica, if that’s what they grew up with. If they don’t like Metallica, then we aren’t going to be playing Metallica for them. They say music is a universal language, but there is still preference involved with that.”

Can caregivers use music to help care for their loved ones?

“Absolutely. Music can be really good to help with bonding, as well as to alleviate some of that aggression that we see. I prefer to use acapela with some of our older adults, because its not as threatening and its not as stimulating as recorded music, which is what sets music therapy apart from just turning on the radio. We use live music, so we are playing something on guitar or piano right there in the moment. Another great way to use music is to work on filling in the blank. So, you can say “you are my___” and see if they fill in “sunshine.””

Visit Katelyn’s website Texas Music Therapy Services.

Visit our Resource Videos page for more educational videos.