By Bernice Alhassan.
It is said that everybody loves music and it’s probably for many different reasons. While surfing the net, I ran across yet another reason, a rather good one at that, why a particular set of people should love music; those suffering from a condition called aphasia.
Aphasia involves a partial or total loss of the ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language. This condition is usually as a result of damage to the brain caused by brain injuries and tumors or a stroke. It usually occurs suddenly, often as the aftermath of a stroke or head injury but it may develop gradually, as in the case of a brain tumor, infection or dementia. Aphasia may co-occur with speech disorders such as dysarthria (difficulty in articulating words, caused by impairment of the muscles used in speech) and aprasia (difficulty connecting speech messages from the brain to the mouth).
While there are other means of managing the different forms of aphasia, the melodic intonation therapy (MIT) uses the melodic and rhythmic components of music to assist in speech recovery for patients with the condition. Although MIT was first developed in the 1970s by Dr Martin Albert and colleagues at the Boston veterans affairs hospitals, relatively little research has been done to understand how this type of therapy affects the brain of the patient; it is therefore very much experimental. Despite this, some speech therapist use the method for both children and adults with aphasia.
The effectiveness of MIT derives from its use of the musical components of melody and rhythm in the production of speech.
Researchers have discovered that music stimulates many different areas in the brain, rather than just one isolated area. They also discovered a strong correlation between the right side of the brain that comprehends music components and the left side of the brain that comprehends language components. Due to the fact that music and language structures are similar, it is suspected that by stimulating the right side of the brain, the left side will begin to make connections as well. As a result, patients are encouraged to sing words rather than speak them in conversational tones in the early phases of MIT.
Furthermore, studies using position emission tomography (PET) scans have shown the broca’s area (the region in the left frontal brain responsible for speech control and language comprehension) is reactivated through repetition of sung words. However, as earlier stated, there isn’t sufficient research to support consistent success with MIT. But again, it doesn’t hurt to sing and what’s more? It doesn’t cost a thing either so I’ll bet it’s worth the try.
Although there’s being several modifications, the primary structure of the therapy remains relatively consistent and involves four levels generally making up the path of therapy:
1. The speech therapist hums short phrases in a rhythmic singsong manner. The patient attempts to follow the rhythm and stress patterns of the phrases by tapping it out.
2. Next the speech therapist assists the patient to repeat the hummed phrases.
3. At this point, the therapist begins to reduce participation as the patient begins to respond to the questions still using rhythmic speech patterns.
4. This level incorporates sprechgesang (a vocal style intermediate between speech and singing but without exact pitch intonation). More complex phrases and longer sentences are attempted.
Preparing for MIT involves some additional research into the therapy and discussions with a neurologist and a speech pathologist. It is also important to have an understanding of the affected brain areas. It is however more likely to be successful in patients who meet certain conditions such as non-bilateral brain damage, good auditory aptitude, non-fluent verbal communication and poor word repetition.
Considering that the music intonation therapy (MIT) involves no risks and direct cost, it’s worth suggesting to anyone you know suffering from aphasia, possibly as the result of a stroke, brain injury or tumor. Try this and watch them sing their way to better speech and improved health.