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Music lessons may help brain-injured veterans

Nov. 23, 2012 - 09:12AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 23, 2012 - 09:12AM  |  
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Music is known to "soothe the savage beast" but it also can improve cognitive function and motor coordination in those with a brain injury or disease, say music therapy advocates.

Now patients at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., will have a chance to see whether learning or playing an instrument can improve their brain power.

Officials with the Intrepid Center, or NICoE, announced Nov. 16 they will expand the facility's therapeutic arts program to include music.

The therapy will be offered as part of Operation Homecoming, an initiative co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts that explores the healing power of the arts, including writing, drawing and painting.

"Neurologic music therapy, which is science-based music training, helps people regain speech, movement and other neurological function lost to disease," NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman said.

Music therapy will be available to the roughly 240 patients seen at the NICoE each year as well as Walter Reed outpatients who have a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or other neurologic conditions.

The program will be evaluated clinically to determine whether it should be expanded to other military treatment facilities and brain injury centers nationwide, according to Rear Adm. Alton Stocks, Walter Reed's commander.

"Our role at the NICoE isn't to treat thousands of patients who have TBI or PTS right now but to do the research and education on what works. We expect it will have much more far-reaching effects," Stocks said.

Operation Homecoming was first established in 2004 by the NEA to help troops and families write about their experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq and at home. Of the program's roughly $200,000-a-year budget, about $70,000 will go to music instruction and therapy research through 2015, officials said.

NICoE music therapist Julie Garrison said the program works because it requires attention to detail as well as structure and concentration to play an instrument or write a song.

"The idea is that learning and relearning are transferable to other areas," Garrison said.

The NEA has underwritten several other cultural programs targeted to troops, including Blue Star Museums, which offers free access to hundreds of museums nationwide, and the Shakespeare in American Communities Military Base Tour.

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