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Music after brain injury

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Music after brain injury

Music after brain injury

Music makes me feel more confident about my life in the future.

There are many proven benefits of listening to, writing and performing music, from improving self-expression to boosting mood levels.

Following brain injury, music can help with cognitive functioning, social skills and physical ability. Whether it's singing or playing an instrument, music can play a positive role in recovery and rehabilitation.

In this special feature, we look at how Headway groups and branches across the country use music to improve the lives of brain injury survivors.

The language of music

Music, like other forms of creative arts, can support verbal and non-verbal communication. Many people experience more than one form of communication problem after brain injury, such as a language impairment, speech difficulty or cognitive communication problem.

Singing may help speech stimulation and improve pronunciation, articulation, projection and recall of vocabulary.

Writing, performing and listening to music may also help boost communication skills among brain injury survivors. Vocal elements of music such as rhythm and pitch can be imitated in spoken language, meaning survivors can transfer  skills learnt in music lessons to their everyday speech.

Fatigue, memory problems and slower speeds of information processing are common after brain injury and make communicating with others a challenge. For those who struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings, music allows them to express themselves creatively.

Thomas, who attends music sessions at 2nd Chance Headway Wakefield, said: "Listening to music and singing helps me to express my feelings and it always makes me feel happy."

A Headway East London service user agreed: "The music sessions are a refreshing opportunity to express myself in a friendly atmosphere."

Music for the mind

Music can be a cause of pleasure and happiness but perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many other psychological benefits. Music can promote emotional wellbeing, through relaxing the mind and improving stress and mood levels.

Paul from Headway East Kent said: "Music is important to me because it lifts my spirits and it helps me forget all my worries."

Bev, who takes part in the music sessions on offer at Headway Luton, agreed:

The Atmospheres at Headway Wakefield

The Atmospheres at Headway Wakefield

Music makes me feel happy inside. It gives me a boost when I'm feeling anxious or sad.

Research shows that this increase in arousal improves areas of cognitive functioning, such as concentration and memory, which are often impaired following brain injury.

Service users at Headway Birmingham and Solihull find the weekly music sessions bring cognitive benefits.

The sessions aim to educate brain injury survivors through focusing on how music has evolved over time.

While educational, the sessions also help survivors recall memories that may have been lost prior to their injury, through listening to familiar songs from the past.

Jegan perfecting his ukulele recital

Jegan perfecting his ukulele recital

For many, bringing back special moments that might have otherwise been forgotten can trigger different emotions. 

Jane, who attends music sessions at Headway Luton, said: “The music can make me quite emotional at times as it brings back memories before my brain injury. Sometimes I want to forget about the past and certain people, but sometimes it is healthy to reflect."

Music as an ice-breaker 

Many Headway groups and branches host group music sessions as part of ongoing rehabilitation, providing a means by which service users can socialise, share their experiences and relate to one another.

Sophie Garner, professional vocal coach at Headway Bedford, said: "Coming together each week to enjoy and perform music results in stronger relationships, improved mood and a positive outlook of hope for the future."

Paul, a service user at Headway East Kent, reflects on how attending music sessions has helped him socially: "I find that music encourages me to join in with the group more than I would normally."

Fellow brain injury survivor Julia, who also attends the same sessions, echoed those sentiments:

Listening to music makes people smile. It encourages them to interact with each other without even knowing. It brings people together.

Breaking down the physical barriers

Whilst the effects of brain injury are often hidden, some survivors experience physical problems such as mobility difficulties, weakness or paralysis and sensory impairment. But these need not be a barrier when it comes to performing, writing or listening to music.

Phil Charnock sustained a brain injury in 2015 following a stroke. Phil had always been a music enthusiast and regularly played guitar, but following his injury, it was difficult to participate in the music sessions at Headway East Northants due to limited shoulder mobility.

Luckily the group's resident music teacher, Dave Thomas, worked with Phil to find a solution. They re-strung Phil's guitar to make it a left-handed instrument. Now, Phil can play far more comfortably and looks forward to the sessions.

Research shows that through following rhythmic patterns, people can develop their muscular control and fine motor coordination, as well as increase sensory responsiveness, which may have been lost due to brain injury.

Music Therapist Alan Rudkin, who delivers music sessions at 2nd Chance Headway Wakefield, said: "Music can help in the immediate aftermath of an injury during rehabilitation, or in the long-term management of a permanent disability.

"Music-making encourages physical organisation and motivates clients to use both their stronger and weaker sides purposefully and positively."

Phil proudly showing his new left-handed guitar

Phil proudly showing his new left-handed guitar

Chris' story

Chris Wilson credits music with the progress he has made following his brain injury.

On holiday, Chris was attacked as he walked from the hotel to meet his friends. He spent eight hours unconscious on the side of a road before being taken to hospital.

Chris lost his independence and now struggles with short-term memory loss, cognitive difficulties and weakness on the right side of his body.

But thanks to music, Chris has regained his confidence.

He takes part in music lessons at Rock School where he sings and plays the ukulele, and enjoys music sessions at his local Headway group in South Cumbria.

Reflecting on the role music has played in his recovery, Chris said: “Playing, singing and listening to music gives me focus and improves my mood. Socially, I've made new friends with similar and different music tastes, which has enriched my life.

Music makes me feel more confident about my life in the future.
Service users showing off their music talent

Service users showing off their music talent

Music sessions at Headway in full-swing

Music sessions at Headway in full-swing

It is very enjoyable and helps people to come together regardless of their disability.

- Service user, Headway Bedford

I especially like the drumming as I feel I have got better and it helps my co-ordination.

- Rob, Headway Southampton

Music therapy is important to me because it lets me forget my problems and lets me get involved with the rest of the group.

- Marie, Headway East Kent

The sessions have got me back into music, it reminds me and jogs me to remember all the old songs.

- Jamie, Headway Southampton

Happy and more positive about my voice. At peace doing it in the group.

 - Service user, Headway Bedford

I feel anxious quite a lot of the time about things in day to day life and I find singing helps to calm me down.

Service user, Herefordshire Headway

Music can not only bring people together, but it can give them a sense of wellbeing and focus in their lives.

Nick, Headway Milton Keynes

I have got a great sense of achievement through playing music at Headway.

Service user, Headway East London


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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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