Monday, July 13, 2009

In review---Your Brain on Music

Oliver Sacks
Tales of Music and The Brain
hardback: Alfred A. Knopf (2007)

I spent a good part of the weekend reading about the effects of music on the brain compliments of Neurologist/Author Oliver Sacks' book, Musicophilia (Tales of the Music and The Brain). While I do not come from a science background myself, I have read in the past about music therapy for people with autism, Parkinson's, clinical depression and dementia. I have also read a little about the renowned hearing and speech specialist Alfred Tomatis as well as, Joshua Leeds work with psychoacoustics.

Sacks book delves deeper into diseases, injuries and birth defects of the brain. In the synopsis for his book found on his website, the description of this book reads "how music heals and haunts us" or something to that effect. Sacks explores music hallucinations, brainworms, epilepsy and fear of music (because some types of music can bring on seizures and convulsions in listeners with certain types of brain injuries or diseases).

I reached the conclusion after reading Musicophilia that music can be more detrimental than healing for certain people. And in fact, for people with certain brain disorders, music can sound flat or as one patient in the book described it, sounds like pots and pans being banged around in the kitchen. Others suffered from non-stop music hallucinations (hearing music outside of themselves that appears to come from nowhere).

On the healing side, music has greatly helped sufferers of Parkinson's, dementia and other brain disorders. Sacks tells amazing stories about people who are physically and emotionally frozen coming to life when music is performed or played back. And people who have lost their speech abilities after suffering strokes were able to sing and follow music. People with dementia would become lucid when singing songs from their past.

Sacks' writing is fluid, intriguing and easily-digestible. By the time I reached the last page of his book, I felt that I had a greater understanding of the complexities of the human brain and our connection to music. While I am still not going to jump on the science train (I believe that scientists rely to heavily on chemicals), my mind has opened up to alternative views of the healing power of music for thousands of people who suffer from brain and neurological diseases.