Melodic intonation therapy may help people with severe aphasia learn how to speak again.
Surprisingly, even if you can’t talk after stroke, this type of singing therapy may help you recover your language skills.
To understand how it works, you need to know a little brain anatomy.
Let’s dive straight in.
Is Language Really Just a Left-Brained Act?
Aphasia is usually caused when the left hemisphere of the brain is injured – usually by a left hemisphere stroke or brain injury.
This damage hinders the brain’s ability to process language. When the injury is severe, aphasia can completely impair the ability to speak at all.
Luckily, even if you can’t speak, you might still be able to sing your words. That’s because singing is a right-brain function while speaking is a left-brain function.
This creates a window of opportunity where you can relearn how to communicate.
Rewiring the Brain to Overcome Aphasia with Singing Therapy
To overcome aphasia and regain your communication skills, you need to activate neuroplasticity to rewire your brain.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s natural-born ability to form new neural connections around the damaged areas of the brain (and everywhere else for that matter).
The best way to activate neuroplasticity is through repetition. For example, some people with aphasia can practice speech therapy exercises over and over to retrain their brain how to speak.
However, people with severe aphasia often cannot practice common speech exercises, and that’s where melodic intonation therapy comes in.
By accessing words through singing, you can begin to rebuild your language skills.
Here’s how it works:
How Melodic Intonation Therapy for Aphasia Works
During melodic intonation therapy, a trained specialist will take you through various exercises that utilize rhythm and pitch.
These “singing” exercises will activate your right-hemisphere and allow you to sing your words instead of saying them.
With the help of a specialist, you can slowly regain the ability to sing your words and eventually transition into speaking your words.
Progress comes slowly, but the success stories are promising!
Here’s what neuroscientist Dr Gottfried Schlaug said:
“One patient was unable to speak voluntarily but after therapy could sing the phrase ‘I am thirsty.’
Another patient could only manage the letters N and O before receiving the treatment, but after undergoing training sessions was able to sing the words ‘happy birthday to you.’”
As you can see, the results are powerful!
It’s All About the Rhythm
In the video on melodic intonation therapy above, you will notice the specialist tapping the patients left hand to the beat. This helps you overcome aphasia in two ways.
First, the tapping creates a rhythm, which engages the musical-processing skills of your brain’s right hemisphere.
Furthermore, when you tap the left hand, it further engages the right hemisphere because each side of the body is controlled by the opposite side of the brain.
By tapping the left hand, you can encourage the right hemisphere to get even more engaged.
With all of this going on, patients are usually able to sing a word or even a sentence.
Although it’s time-intensive, melodic intonation therapy can slowly help you turn singing into speech!
How to Get Started
Melodic intonation therapy is best done with the help of a trained specialist. A Google search for “melodic intonation therapy near me” can help you out.
And if there aren’t any clinics or specialists near you, we encourage you to search for other types of singing therapy.
Sometimes you can find a Speech Language Pathologist nearby that specializes in alternative aphasia treatments, like singing therapy.
It may take some digging, but hopefully there’s a gifted specialist near you that can help!