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Experts: Music Therapy Has Dramatic Effect On Brain Injury Patients

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some experts say music works through different brain networks than speech, and that theory has led to a new treatment method for brain injury patients.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, the treatment combines music therapy with speech pathology

Linda Foote recalls the tense days in November 2014 when her son, Andrew, overdosed on opiates.

"He was unconscious, not breathing, heart not beating for over 30 minutes," Foote said. "It's a miracle that he's still here.

Andrew, 26, was in a coma for two months. When he regained consciousness, he could not walk and he could not talk.

But thanks in part to neurologic music therapy, Andrew has made huge strides.

"Music aids the brain's ability to heal itself in what we call neuroplasticity, so music can actually help to strengthen connections that we have in our brain and build new connections around where the damage might be," said Brian Harris of Spaulding Rehab Hospital.

Unlike some therapies, which focus on specific brain centers, music therapy hits them all.

The centers that are responsible for movement, and language, and emotion and cognition are all activated when we just passively listen to music," Harris said.

Foote said it had an effect on her son.

"It wasn't struggle like getting up and walking physically or using his hands or using his arms," she said. "His voice just started coming out. It was wonderful to hear his voice again."

Therapists use music that patients enjoy, but start with slower-paced numbers to work on fluency and articulation.

"He likes rap music," said Caitlyn Hyatt of Spaulding Rehab Hospital. "Hopefully in the future, who knows -- maybe he will be rapping to and Eminem song."

Now, 15 months after his brain injury, Andrew has regained much of what he lost.

"We walk, we talk, we sing, we laugh -- we're living," Foote said.

Music therapy can help with a variety of brain disorders, including traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's, stroke, and autism. It seems to be helpful for parents of all ages.

Experts said music can also evoke strong emotional reactions, so the choice of music for therapy has to be carefully picked.

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