By Andrew Kensley & Kati Blocker
Under the close watch of his physical therapist, a stoic man marches up and down a four-inch step with admirable consistency. His left hand holds a walker for support, but his feet endure in their instructed endeavor; forward and backward, up and down, left and right.
The therapist barely says a word, but he doesn’t have to. This man — a victim of Parkinson’s disease and a stroke — heeds another master, a primal part of his brain that craves rhythm and symmetry.
UCHealth uses a variety of musical-based techniques in conjunction with physical, occupational and speech therapies to improve stimulation of sensory and motor systems for patients injured by accidents or strokes.
Regaining function, say the experts, is the main goal of rehabilitation. And it often occurs faster — and better — when it’s set to music.
It’s not about teaching the patient to sing, but rather working on such things as speaking skills. It’s about the patient using their air to develop lung capacity. Using music can help the body move better, help muscles work together in a more coordinated fashion, help strengthen muscles that are weak, and help retrain neurologic pathways.
The rhythm of music helps support fluid and more natural movements, said UCHealth music therapist Joe Haines. Then when instruments are added, there is that visual, auditory and tactile feedback.
Another major benefit is the natural opportunity for repetition. “When you add a beat to a certain movement — reaching, stepping, lifting — patients become part of the creative process,” he said.
With multiple opportunities to do something, it leads to better performance, carry-over into normal activities, and, quite often, a level of enjoyment rarely seen in the challenging process of recovery from debilitating injuries or managing a disease.
To learn more about music therapy, visit uchealth.org.
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