Aphasia and Music

Marshall Chasin
November 28, 2017

Aphasia is a word that is typically associated with a collection of symptoms that a person may experience after a blood clot or stroke has affected a certain part of the brain.  In general, aphasia can be divided into two main groups; an expressive form that limits the output of speech, and a receptive form that limits the understanding of speech. Of course, any slice of the knife that divides a complex area into two categories can be simplistic.  Many people have a form of aphasia that affects both their expressive and their receptive abilities, typically one more than the other.

There can be paralysis or paresis or a range of body parts, and also speech and language concerns, but this is typically where our understanding of aphasia ends.


Aphasia and Music Appreciation


Courtesy of www.neurowiki2013.wikidot.com

However, a recent study from the Pennsylvania State University casts new light on aphasia and there may be other elements that we are not as aware of, such as how it may affect appreciation and the playing of music.

Chaleece and Sandberg studied resting-state functional MRI (fMRI) studies of people with aphasia and compared these with age-matched people without aphasia.  The phrase “Resting state” refers to a person being in a scanner but not performing any task.


“Regions involved in hearing, vision, motor processing, attention and executive functions like organization and planning – even when at rest – are still all highly connected and talking to each other, forming distinct networks,” Sandberg said.


That is, there are wide ranging connections between various parts of the brain including areas that may be quite remote.

However, in cases of people with aphasia, these connections are not as strong, despite having no discernable damage in these seemingly healthy neurological regions.

Courtesy of www.slideshare.net

This finding certainly has implications for non-speech, non-language phenomena such as music.  Like language, music is a very complex stimulus with connections that connote emotion and memory.  Even though aphasia is considered to be a language and a mobility issue, given this finding, aphasia most certainly affects other centers of the brain that are recruited for stimuli such as music.

I am a clinician and ultimately the things that I find of interest are those that have direct clinical ramifications.  I must admit, that other than being more sensitized to brain-related issues in those clients I see that have experienced aphasia, I am not sure how else I would handle these clients.  I would definitely probe much deeper into their enjoyment of their music than I would have before, realizing that aphasia may be more “neurologically-widespread” than I previously would have considered.

This is a relatively new area of investigation. If any of our readers can suggest some other articles that may shed light on this, I would be open to knowing more.

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