Quick Recap: Last week, we presented our preliminary research of three different conditions - Parkinson’s, neurodegeneration, and eating disorders - and their relationship to music therapy. At the time, we were unsure about the best path to take, so we prompted suggestions from the class on which one would be potentially moonshot material.

Feedback: About half of the responses suggested that our project was moonshot material, while the other half urged us to think a little bigger. Many people said that they thought the topics were interesting and suggested that we narrow our research and specialize in one disease. Although many thought that the connection between music therapy and eating disorders was more interesting, others suggested focusing on dementia because there is more research and evidence out there for it.

Some feedback responses:

“I would suggest focusing on dementia, just because it is more researched and focused on the brain. It’s a large area of study right now and it would be amazing to see how this could evolve”
“I thought that anorexia and music was interesting, because anorexia is a mental disorder, and music can also affect people mentally rather than physically (at least that's my understanding...)”
“I would recommend that you focus on research on a more general topic, so perhaps neurodegeneration in general because at least it encompasses both PD and dementia.”

The Big Question:

How can we use music to improve language/speech ability and general condition of patients with diseases that impair language?

Though we originally hoped to target biological channels responsible for hormonal secretion, we are now considering shifting our research to cognition and memory, given the lack of scientific research in music’s influence on specific proteins.

Failed Ideas

  1. App for Parkinson’s patients
    - Concerns were raised in the feedback comments on whether Parkinson’s patients will physically be able to utilize the app without additional assistance when their movement was severely impared.
  2. An attempt to encompass multiple disorders
    - Given that scientific research is fairly limited in regards to music therapy and protein channels, focusing on one disease does not provide a proper foundation for this moonshot project. Therefore, future research will be directed at identifying similarities between various diseases to widen the scope of our research and project.
  3. Develop algorithms to personalize playlists for patients with depression
    - Studies show that listening to sad music actually helps sad people feel better.  This is because when people are sad, they often feel misunderstood and listening to happy music would further contribute to a feeling of detachment. Listening to music one likes also releases dopamine. However, it was hard to find a connection between depression and language.
  4. Develop algorithms to personalize playlists to improve exercise regime
    - Music has been proven to override feelings of fatigue and helps us push through pain. A 2012 study showed that cyclists that listened to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as those who cycled in silence. Music can even help us use our energy more efficiently. Again, while we saw a connection between music and exercise, we struggled to relate this to language.
  5. Music as a treatment/prevention for eating disorders and weight maintaining program
    - Understanding that hormones such as leptin, ghrelin, Cortisol, Neuropeptide Y, Estrogen, Insulin, Glucagon like peptide-1, Cholecystokinin, Peptide YY, etc. are related in adjusting appetite and weight, we tried to connect the associated brain area with music to come up with a novel solution that can technically target a larger audience who wish to stay fit. However, we realized that there is a lack of research on how language itself could assist such process as to wavelengths, melodies affecting our neural signals. We saw little connection between language and plasticity in this arena.
  6. Limit of personalization
    - For any of the previously mentioned solutions, we tried to implement a customized solution such as personalized sound system, music, lyrics for the target disease. Yet, we came to realize that we lack enough data to support such creation.

Two Best Ideas

  1. Develop algorithms that personalize songs for patients with dementia to alleviate symptoms
  • Music is known to help dementia patients return to reality and reminisce on their history and personalizing such playlists will help keep patients lucid. For example, we can take a small dataset of a few songs that we observe to elicit a positive “awakening” in the patient and then curate the playlist to include similar songs. These songs could be from the same time era, genre, artist, etc. This will provide a dynamic and diverse playlist for patients to enjoy. We can also encourage them to sing along and and/or physically engage with the music in some way. While listening to music activates certain parts of the brain, producing music engages both sides of the brain, leading to increased functional connectivity.

2. Enroll students with autism spectrum disorder (ASM) in music education at an early age

  • Autism is a developmental disability, which is known to appear typically within the first three years of life and affects one’s ability to communicate.
  • Songs or instruments can be used to support cognitive ability, build self-awareness, and encourage interaction with others. Learning to organize auditory information can assist them in memorizing other facts and tasks.
  • Compared to their peers, students with autism are known to possess better abilities in “pitch processing, labeling of emotions in music, and musical preference.” Understanding that people with autism have a hard time interpreting others’ emotions and thoughts, it is usually harder for them to communicate their own feelings and thoughts back. However, with the research suggesting how students with autism have superior ability in processing pitch, this trait may be employed in assisting their bilateral/multilateral communication.