By the end of last month’s Third National Summit on Arts, Health, and Well-being Across the Military Continuum, I felt like my brain was full. Although only lasting one day, planners packed the summit full of interesting sessions. In addition to getting acquainted with NICoE’s Healing Arts Program (discussed in our last post), we discovered new research, survey tools, and technology. I can’t fit everything we learned into this article, but I’ll do my best to share a few more highlights from the day.
The Impact of Vocal Music Therapy on Core Outcomes in Chronic Pain Management
Drexel University’s Joke Bradt, Ph.D., MT-BC, presented first and shared the results of a preliminary, mixed-methods randomized controlled trial about an eight-week vocal music therapy program attended by individuals with chronic pain.
While music therapy did not significantly improve participants’ physical functioning (it’s worth noting that patients expressed concerns about the relevance of the activities included in the survey instrument), the data suggests it had other benefits. For instance, the members of the music therapy cohort said they felt less isolated. In addition, the belief that they could accomplish goals, or their self-efficacy, increased. Although not generalizable, these results are promising and have implications for the military considering the number of veterans with chronic pain.
Research Technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
From DARPA representative Daniel Ragsdale, Ph.D., COL, USA (Ret), we learned about the agency’s efforts to develop technology that complements and supplements the efforts of qualified healthcare professionals.
One of these technologies is SimSensei, a platform featuring an avatar named Ellie who speaks to users and looks for signs of depression, PTSD, and anxiety. SimSensei detects these signals through a system called Multisense, which assesses and evaluates body movements, gestures and physical movements, facial expressions, vocal characteristics, and response latency. In DARPA studies, veterans have willingly opened up to Ellie without a fear of judgment, and as a result, healthcare professionals have been able to take the data gathered by SimSensei into account when making diagnoses and other decisions.
Music: A help for traumatic brain injury? A neural perspective
During her presentation, Northwestern University’s Nina Kraus, PhD., explained how music modifies the brain by activating areas like the cognitive, sensorimotor, and reward networks. Throughout a person’s lifetime, music can enhance auditory processing by improving the ability to precisely detect the timing of sounds, produce consistent neural responses to auditory stimuli, distinguish between consonants, and hear in noise. Music also increases auditory working memory capacity and processing speed. Dr. Kraus has even found that older musicians with hearing loss have a better auditory working memory and ability to hear in noise than older non-musicians without hearing loss!
In addition, she referenced one of her studies, Music Enrichment Programs Improve the Neural Encoding of Speech in At-Risk Children, published last fall. Dr. Kraus discovered that compared to children who did not play an instrument, children who learned music could better hear speech in noise and distinguish between consonants more quickly after two years (but not one) of study. Such research has ramifications for veterans with brain injuries in demonstrating that across the lifespan, music has the power to rewire the brain.
Free Survey Tools
Throughout the day, presenters also shared advice and resources for individuals interested in conducting research. The NIH in particular has supported efforts to make high-quality data collection tools freely available to the general public. With teams of researchers, it has compiled several collections of survey instruments for use across studies, diseases, or ages. You can access these at the links below:
In addition to these compilations, we learned of one other free tool, the Defense and Veterans Pain Rating Scale (DVPRS) and Supplemental Questions, which individuals can use to describe feelings of pain with numbers, images, descriptions, and colors.
All in all, our day at the summit gave us a great deal to think about. I hope we’ve inspired you to explore this topic further as well, and I’ll leave you with several links to more information:
Please add any of your favorite resources in the comments below. We’re always looking for new reading material to broaden our horizons. Thank you!