Old time rock n’ roll soothes Bob Seger’s soul, though in the four decades since that number one hit, academic studies have proven music has even deeper healing power.
Dr. Corene Hurt-Thaut is a specialist in neurologic music therapy and one of a handful of experts visiting Edmonton on Nov. 6 for the Winspear Centre’s Music Care Conference.
For the 11th time since 2010 and first time in Alberta’s capital, health care professionals will discuss ways music can treat isolation, loneliness, mental health, mobility issues and even be a prescription for Parkinson’s disease.
“We have a responsibility to really understand music as a powerful tool and how it can have the greatest impact on the clients we serve,” Hurt-Thaut said. “Music can actually be a powerful tool in changing the brain.”
The Winspear Centre is hoping the conference attracts a wide range of local professionals such as nurses, recreation therapists, music therapists, teachers, funeral care providers, physicians, social workers, occupational therapists and speech therapists.
"It's part of our focus on reaching the broader community. We have known we wanted to have programs that reflect the role of music in health and wellness," said Allison Kenny-Gardhouse, director of musical creativity.
“We hope it leads to things such as research studies between Winspear and long-term care facilities.”
Hurt-Thaut said there is already extensive research to support the concept of music playing an integral role in treatments for Parkinson’s Disease, strokes, traumatic brain injuries and more.
She said that Canada lags behind many countries in implementing advanced practice of music therapy, though educational initiatives are crucial to narrowing the gap.
“Edmonton is ready for this kind of learning,” said Bev Foster, one of the main conference organizers. “The U.K. is ahead of us. They are using art and social perceptions in addition to medical. We want to see it become more of a primary approach.”
Foster is the executive director of Room 217, a non-profit organization advocating for music care,
She offered examples of music having an effect on blood pressure, being a pain distraction, its potential to help treat dementia and suggested an expanded role for music as a care method in the future.
“Music affects mood, it can accompany you through joy and grief,” she said. “Music brings people together and causes people to socialize. It has tremendous capacity to bring comfort and peace.”
Hurt-Thaut has studied music’s impact on cognition, movement, speech and language performance issues. She said the different elements of music such as pitch, rhythm, harmony and dynamics trigger an effect on the brain that can be used for therapy.
“We are trying to take the understanding of those elements and change non-musical behaviours,” Hurt-Thaut said.
“If someone is having difficulty speaking, can singing help rehab their speech? If it is walking, can we use rhythm to tap into their motor program? If it’s attention, can musical exercises such as listening for certain things improve it?”
Larissa Agosti, the Winspear’s co-ordinator of musical creativity, attended the last conference and said those who attend the conference will be surprised with how common music therapy is used elsewhere.
“In so many places, hospitals and caregiving facilities, music is the key ingredient,” she said. “Big things can come out of (the conference). Canada is still growing in terms of music care as therapeutic use, we’re trying to spread the word.”