Sci-Fi Music Therapy Part 2: Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery

Lately, I've stumbled across a few articles featuring some high-tech medical equipment and surgeries, and of course my therapist mind wanders and asks "How could music therapy work with this technology?" In part 1 of this serious, I discussed Ekso Bionics. In part 2, we're looking at a new type of surgery called deep brain stimulation, or brain pacemaker surgery.

What is it?

In neurologic diseases such as Parkinson's, patients may experience tremors, stiffness, and limited mobility that affects their quality of life. Drinking from a glass, driving, or participating in leisure activities such as golf or music can become difficult or impossible as a result. Medicine is available to help control this, however it must be taken multiple times a day, which can be difficult to keep up with. It also results in "peaks and valleys" of functioning between doses as the medicine takes effect then slowly fades. Additionally, as Parkinson's is a progressive disease, the dosages must be frequently adjusted by a doctor in order to have the desired effect. And of course, every medicine has side effects.

So what if there was another way?

Get ready to have your mind blown by medical science.

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a procedure in which a device, similar to a heart pacemaker, is implanted into the brain. The device sends electrical signals to specific areas of the brain and blocks the abnormal neural signals that result in the tremors, stiffness, and other neurologic symptoms of Parkinson's.

Let's pause for a minute and reflect on how amazing that is.

Now obviously, this is a surgery that takes some precision. You can't simply stick this device anywhere in the brain, you could cause serious damage! So in order to accurately place the device, patients are woken up during the surgery and given a series of tests to determine the best placement of the device.

Think of it like going to the eye doctor when she asks you "Which lens is clearer, 1 or 2? 2 or 3? 2 or 4?"

Except this time it's "Are the tremors worse or better now?"

Recently, UCLA Health performed the 500th DBS surgery. To mark the occasion, the hospital "live-tweeted" the procedure from the operating room! They took pictures and videos and posted them on Twitter as the surgery was happening, explaining what the doctors were doing.

You can check out the surgery here. If those kind of things make you squeamish, you may not want to view the link, though any site of blood or other internal body parts is minimal.

Here's where it gets cool.

The gentlemen they were operating on is a musician! In order to help test the best placement of the device that helped reduce his tremors the most, they decided to have him perform one of his favorite leisure activities right there on the operating table. They had him bring a guitar into the O.R. and play it while the doctors were performing surgery on his brain.


So. Cool. So the next logical question is...

How could a music therapist help?

The patient must perform a series of neurologic tests while the doctor is working in his brain. Even with anesthesia and other drugs, I can imagine this can be a bit unnerving for some patients. We already know that music therapists can provide procedural support during medical procedures to help ease nerves and calm patients. What if we could do it in the O.R. for surgeries such as this? Rather than a standard set of neurologic tests, what if we designed a set of music-based tests that measured the same functions? Instrument play, basic movement activities, all using patient-preferred music that allowed the doctors to gather the information they need, but tailored around the patient to help calm his or her nerves and forget about what's going on behind the curtain.

It seems like a very feasible thing to accomplish. The surgeons could meet with the music therapist and describe the types of movements they need the patient to perform in order to determine the best placement of the device. The music therapist could then suggest various music-based activities that will accomplish these functions. The music therapist could then meet with the patient to tailor the procedure to their musical preferences.

Then it's time to scrub up and head to the O.R.!

What do you think? What are some other ways a music therapist could support this procedure? Leave a comment and let us know!

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