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Event Recap: Aaron Lightstone, Neurologic Music Therapist

19/06/2018 03:17:30 PM


By Myra Schiff


You may know Aaron Lightstone as the musician who has led us in song on Shabbat mornings. Or you may know him from Rabbi Tina’s program on aging. On May 31, we got to know him through his program about his work as a music therapist. 

During the program, Health and Rehabilitation Benefits of Music and Music Therapy in Older Adults, Aaron talked about various aspects of music therapy, illustrating many of them with compelling videos, and used examples from his professional practice to clarify what he meant. He defined music therapy as the skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist. The therapy can lead to improvements in mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Neurological music therapy, which Aaron practices, is grounded in neuroscience research and improves the functioning of the nervous system (motor skills, speech and language, and cognition), which may be compromised as a result of disease or injury.

An example that Aaron provided was of a patient who was left with an impaired ability to walk after suffering from a stroke. However, when music with an appropriate beat was played, he was able to walk faster and more smoothly. This improvement remained even after the music stopped. After several sessions of this type, the person was able to walk almost normally, even when there was no music. This is an example of neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. With neuroplasticity, the brain can compensate for injury and disease, and networks can adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment.

Aaron made reference to neuroplasticity a number of times throughout his presentation and explained that participation in music is an important way to increase neuroplasticity and reverse cognitive decline. In part this is because the brain’s receptors for music are not localized but are distributed throughout the brain. Aaron also explained that the three best protections against dementia are music, exercise, and being bilingual.

The presentation then turned to a discussion of dementia, including Alzheimer Disease and related disorders. Aaron explained that dementia entails the loss of cognitive function and behavioural abilities in addition to memory loss. Memory for familiar music is very robust, and people who cannot speak will often be able to sing along with familiar music.

Music therapy can help people with dementia by encouraging them to be more active, improving their mood, helping with reminiscence, and encouraging movement and exercise. There are both benefits and disadvantages of a program by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto in which people with dementia are provided with iPods that are programmed with music the individual particularly likes. Aaron pointed out some concerns he has with the program, noting that listening to music on earphones is not the same experience as listening to live music. While there are advantages to this program, it is not a substitute for music therapy.

Because our audience was so engaged and had so many questions, there was not time for him to talk about music therapy’s applications in palliative care. In order for Aaron to speak about this important topic, we will just have to have Aaron back again!

Thu, 23 May 2024 15 Iyar 5784