Music; Neurological Treatment
The first piece of evidence to suggest that music could have potential in a ‘medicinal’ setting, is the concept of ‘regional specificity;’ ‘The idea of regional specificity is evident,’ claims Levitin, a renowned neuroscientist. This notion is based on the concept that certain areas of the brain process or ‘deal with’ specific aspects of music. For example, research has shown that the Cerebrum processes the auditory aspects, and the the Motor region within the Cerebrum interprets the rhythm of the music (Dean, 2013). Equally, the Parietal lobe which is associated generally with interpreting sensory stimuli and the ‘visual system,’ enables the processes of recognition, perception and orientation of music. ‘A complementary principle applies as well, that of distribution of function,’ (Levitin, 2006) meaning that different areas of the brain perform different ‘operations.’ I.e, there isn’t one core region that processes music, but rather, many ‘co-ordinating’ regions, that all compliment each other to give us our full experience of music.
This evidence I believe aids the medical model for music, as, different areas of the brain are affected with different medical ailments. For example, the nerve cells deeply routed in Basal Ganglia are those that succumb to Parkinson’s disease. Depression, on the other hand, affects the Amygdala, which is part of the Limbic System that is associated with our emotions. Therefore, the specificity of music within the brain, could be used to our advantage; to target different neurological and psychological issues. If we were to discover that certain types of music particularly affected certain parts of the brain, then we could perhaps form a treatment plan where the patient with said neurological disease, (e.g Dementia) listened to that type of music, and perhaps was encouraged to try to play that music, to see whether that improved their symptoms at all.
Music and Neuroplasticity:
Supporting this idea of specificity leading to treatment prospects, there is the more recent discovery of the brain’s amazing ‘capacity for reorganization that vastly exceeds what we thought before,’ (Levitin, 2006). Due to the amount of studies upon child development (e.g Piaget, Freud, among others) and our brains as they change particularly between childhood and adolescence, and adolescence and adulthood, there is the long-standing belief that our brain’s potential for neuroplasticity reaches its peak during adolescence, and significantly wanes upon reaching adulthood; between eight and fourteen, ‘Myelination starts to ramp up during this time,’ (Levitin, 2006). Myelin, a ‘fatty substance’ works effectively as a catalyst. It coats the axons,‘speeding up’ the transmission between synapses. Whilst evidence does strongly support the idea of optimum potential for neuroplasticity, it neglects the idea that the brain can reorganize itself at any point, in response to trauma or illness or even acquiring a new skill. For too long, we have been severely underestimating our brains, suggesting that mental decline begins from the tender age of 25, when in reality, it is becoming more and more evident that our brains seems to have adapted to be in a sense, malleable, changeable, able to redistribute functions should be required.
There is the world famous case of Phineas Gage who was dramatically injured in 1848 when a 23 inch long tamping iron launched into his skull, spearing his frontal lobe. Luckily, Gage survived. He was able to walk and talk and comprehend quite normally. To me, this is demonstrably an example of neuroplasticity. It is irrefutable that areas of the frontal lobe are used for language and motor function, along with other things, and yet, Gage was not rendered dumb nor paralysed. Thus, it is more than likely that Gage’s brain reorganised itself to an extent, perhaps moving these ‘operations’ to other regions of the brain.