On “Singing ‘Rewires’ Damaged Brain”

Gill, V. (2010). “Singing ‘Rewires’ Damaged Brain.” BBC World News. Visited on 24 June 2010.


Summary: This article discusses how singing can teach stroke patients to recover their speech abilities. Singing uses a different part of the brain than the areas that involve speech. The idea is that if the “speech center” of the brain is damaged patients can use their “singing center.”

Already established as a medical technique, “melodic intonation therapy” was further studied by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School with the findings presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Using medical technology to scan the brain doctors were able to deduce that most speech took place on the left side of the brain, but melody and singing took place on the right side. This study is one of many larger studies examining the general effects of music and the brain. Dr Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist from Northwestern University, has concluded that musical training is an important part of children’s education.

This article is important because many people have experienced or know someone who has experienced a stroke. Reading this article may prompt further investigation for those affected to seek this relatively easy and inexpensive speech therapy treatment.

Conceptual Design: This information can be useful for product designers because the study can be used as part of the foundation for different educational, medical, or linguistic products. For example, the ability to use song in education is already practiced and this study can be used as a scientific example for educational materials that reinforce language and memory skills (e.g. the Alphabet song). There is also a large area of potential for medical products and medical therapies that can help a wide range of people. The knowledge learned in this study could also be used to help people with speech and other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as strokes, autism, stutters, etc.

Interface Design: In the study various patients whose speech was affected by a stroke were asked to repeat simple words or phrases and were unable to. When asked to sing, the patients were able to form the words and make complete sentences while maintaining the melody of the song. Knowing this one can see that sound therapy will be used as the interface between the product and the user. Therefore the designer must have a wide background of knowledge in order to create an effective product. The way the product looks and is used will depend on who it is being designed for. If this study is used to create therapies for stroke patients then the songs will need to be simple and already referenced in the patient’s memory. Just as the product can be designed on a case-by-case basis it can also be developed on a wider scale. For example, developing song therapies to aid in language and pronunciation to ESL (English as a second language) students may need an interface that has both sound and text.

Interaction Design: The design potential for products based on this study is broad. With this in mind, product designers are going to have to remember who their audience is. When designing educational materials the age and knowledge depth of the user is the most important factor. If creating medical therapies for stroke patients, using simple songs that the patients already know is essential to the rehabilitation process. The way these products are designed can be on a group or individual basis. For example, using this study to create language-learning tools for can be designed by grade level or by language ability to be used in the classroom. On the other hand, speech therapists may choose to design individual therapies for their patients.

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