Mu­sic opens memory key

A Perth neu­ro­sci­en­tist is cham­pi­oning mu­si­cal ther­apy as a se­ri­ous game changer, writes ANGIE TOM­LIN­SON

The West Australian - - HEALTH+FITNESS -

There have been sev­eral forks in the road in Alan Har­vey’s life. One led down the path of mu­sic, the other neu­ro­science.

He chose neu­ro­science with an oc­ca­sional mu­si­cal de­vi­a­tion, in­clud­ing as a long­haired folk-rocker of the Gi­gy­men in the 1970s and now as a de­cid­edly less-hairy board mem­ber of the Perth Sym­phonic Cho­rus.

While neu­ro­science has dom­i­nated his pro­fes­sional life, as a Univer­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor and se­nior re­search fel­low with Per­ron In­sti­tute for Neu­ro­log­i­cal and Trans­la­tional Sci­ence, mu­sic has never been far away.

“I’ve loved mu­sic since I can re­mem­ber. I thought wouldn’t it be nice if I could put my pro­fes­sional life as a neu­ro­sci­en­tist and my life as mu­si­cian to­gether,” Pro­fes­sor Har­vey rem­i­nisces.

Com­bin­ing his two loves places him in a unique po­si­tion as a per­sua­sive ad­vo­cate for the power of mu­sic to help treat neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders such as Parkin­son’s and Alzheimer’s.

“The power of mu­sic ther­apy and the power of its neu­ro­log­i­cal and neu­ro­science un­der­pin­nings mean that is not an al­ter­na­tive thing you do on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, it’s ac­tu­ally a se­ri­ous ther­a­peu­tic tool that needs to be in­cor­po­rated into ther­a­peu­tic pro­to­cols,” he says.

De­spite his own list of

im­pres­sive sci­ence qual­i­fi­ca­tions, Pro­fes­sor Har­vey says shov­ing mu­sic into the “arts” cat­e­gory as sim­ply a leisure ac­tiv­ity is wrong.

“This has tended to make the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion per­haps not take it se­ri­ously enough but that is chang­ing,” he says.

He says the ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit of mu­sic for those liv­ing with de­men­tia is “ab­so­lutely clear cut”.

He ex­plains that mu­sic ac­ti­vates path­ways and re­gions within the lim­bic sys­tem, a dis­trib­uted but in­te­grated sys­tem in­volv­ing a num­ber of brain ar­eas that process nu­mer­ous func­tions in­clud­ing learn­ing, memory, mo­ti­va­tion and emo­tional re­spon­sive­ness.

“Mu­sic pro­vides an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal stamp of place and time. Ask 99 per cent of peo­ple — can you think of a piece of mu­sic the first time you heard it, where you heard it, who you were with?

“We’ve all got those mem­o­ries — very few things (like smell) can do that. That’s why more and more they are us­ing mu­si­cal ther­apy for peo­ple with de­men­tia, es­pe­cially with Alzheimer’s pa­tients.

“They find out from their fam­ily or car­ers what was the mu­sic that they loved the most and then they re­play that back. It un­locks mem­o­ries be­cause it is ac­cess­ing those au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal traces — the mem­o­ries are bought back to the sur­face in a way that noth­ing else can do.”

He says the weight of ev­i­dence is in­creas­ing with the use of mu­sic ther­apy for move­ment dis­or­ders like Parkin­son’s to help with gait and bal­ance, stroke, relief of pain pre and post surgery, tin­ni­tus, post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders like autism.

In chil­dren he says mu­sic has been used in neona­tal in­ten­sive care; mu­sic lessons are used to

‘Mu­sic has an enor­mous power to stim­u­late our emo­tions and mem­o­ries. Mu­sic also af­fects us on a bi­o­log­i­cal level. Mu­sic is uni­ver­sal.’ Alan Har­vey

en­hance au­di­tory per­cep­tion, cog­ni­tive per­for­mance, and speech-lan­guage de­vel­op­ment in pro­foundly deaf chil­dren with hear­ing aids or cochlear im­plants; and to im­prove lis­ten­ing and read­ing skills in dyslexic chil­dren.

Two years ago the neu­ro­sci­en­tist and gifted mu­si­cian pub­lished his book — Mu­sic, Evo­lu­tion, and the Har­mony of Souls — born out of his frus­tra­tion of the lack of mu­sic taught in our schools, and the be­lief mu­sic was an al­ter­na­tive med­i­cal ap­proach.

“Two or three years ago it (mu­sic ther­apy) was put along­side iri­dol­ogy, hyp­nother­apy and aro­mather­apy. To be hon­est, it p ..... me off a lit­tle bit that mu­sic was by some thought to be in that bas­ket. Ev­ery­thing I read and in­te­grated to­gether for the book sug­gested, ac­tu­ally, that mu­sic was one of the most im­por­tant things we did as we evolved as a species,” he says.

He wants to see mu­sic ther­apy part­nered with other med­i­cal ap­proaches.

In his en­ter­tain­ing talk for TEDxPerth last year Pro­fes­sor Har­vey summed up the case for mu­sic as more than mere en­ter­tain­ment: “Mu­sic has an enor­mous power to stim­u­late our emo­tions and mem­o­ries. Mu­sic also af­fects us on a bi­o­log­i­cal level. Mu­sic is uni­ver­sal.”

‘I’ve loved mu­sic since I can re­mem­ber. I thought wouldn’t it be nice if I could put my pro­fes­sional life as a neu­ro­sci­en­tist and my life as mu­si­cian to­gether?’ Alan Har­vey

Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor Alan Har­vey. Pic­ture: Iain Gille­spie

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