Music therapy is described as a type of therapy that utilises music and musical elements to promote, maintain and restore mental, physical and emotional health. One area of health restoration in which music therapy has been implemented widely has been in the area of cognitive rehabilitation. Cognitive rehabilitation refers to the process whereby cognitively impaired individuals receive treatment to help restore normal cognitive functioning or to help learn to compensate for cognitive deficits. This type of treatment is common in those who have developed cognitive impairments as a result of traumatic brain injury or following illness such as a stroke. The effects of music therapy in cognitive rehabilitation have been shown to be extremely positive with research suggesting that participation in musically orientated interventions can lead to stimulation and recovery of brain functions involved in movement, cognition, speech, sensory perceptions, emotions and social behaviour.

Though the role of music therapy in cognitive rehabilitation has been understood for some time now, its role in the process of assessing for cognitive deficits has so far been largely ignored. This is surprising given the fact that accurate assessment of cognitive deficits has been shown to lead to more effective treatment strategies and better overall therapeutic outcomes. In response to this, researchers Camila Pfeiffer and Liliana Sabe developed a screening tool for assessing the effects of music on the cognitive functions often impaired in illnesses such as stroke. Termed the Screening of Music and Cognition (SCM) assessment tool, this screening measure was therefore designed to help therapists to detect impaired cognitive and communicative behaviours that are related to music perception and performance.

In their evaluation of the tool, Pfeiffer and Sabe used it to intake assess and then follow-up on 15 adult inpatients who had mild to severe cognitive impairments resulting from strokes. They found the SCM to be extremely useful not only for gathering information pertinent to informing cognitive rehabilitation programs, but also as a way of tracking progress during and following treatment. The SCM itself is composed of three distinct subscales that contain tasks that account for music perception and production related to recognition, verbal communication skills, and music perception and production related to further cognitive functions. The development and resulting positive evaluation of this clinical tool further highlight the relevance of music therapy in mental health practice, particularly in the area of cognitive rehabilitation. These findings highlight a particularly interesting area for future development and shed further light on an area of practice that in the past has been largely overlooked.


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Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.

The role of music therapy in cognitive assessment

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