Music May Help Blind Children Develop Other Skills, fMRI Study Shows
Tuesday, Dec. 01, 2015
Classical music training could help blind children develop skills in areas where they have deficits due to their blindness, according to a functional MRI (fMRI) study presented Monday.
Samples of classical music stimulated the brains of children blind from birth in distinctive ways compared with the brains of sighted controls, and in some cases stimulated areas not normally associated with hearing, said Pilar Dies-Suarez, M.D., chief radiologist at the Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico City. Both groups process random noise similarly.
"Musical stimulation is very cheap and easy to give to children, so it's important for every child to receive musical education, but it's even more important if they have some kind of disability because it could help them with other skills," she added. For example, the musical sounds activated areas associated with vision that are not normally stimulated in blind children, and she speculated that such stimulation might help them develop better equilibrium.
In the session, "Functional MRI in Blind Children with Auditive Stimulus" researchers assessed differences in brain recruitment and connectivity when passages of classical music were compared with random non-melodic noise in a control and blind pediatric population. The study tested 10 blind children and 15 sighted controls, ranging from 5 to 6 years old.
Both groups showed significantly more brain activity in response to the music stimulus than to the random noise. Blind children showed right-hemisphere predominance in the study, while the sighted control group showed left-hemisphere predominance. The cerebellum played a major role in sound interpretation for both groups. Music activated the frontal lobe in both groups, while temporal activations were found for both types of stimuli. Specifically, the Wernicke´s area was involved for both groups and both types of stimuli, which Dr. Dies-Suarez said was unexpected.
Two sequences were run: a T1weighted gradient echo sequence using 35 axial slices that covered the whole brain of pediatric volunteers including their cerebellum, and an fMRI-BOLD sequence. Data was acquired with a T2 gradient echo sequence. A total of 255 volumes per fMRI-BOLD experiment were acquired. Every stimulation protocol started with a white noise period that was not considered for image analysis later on.
The study was limited to classical music, though Dr. Dies-Suarez said she thinks it would be interesting to try similar studies with other genres of music, such as jazz, hip-hop and rock.
The research team is planning a follow-up study to assess the effect of musical training—instrumental lessons and regular listening sessions—on the brain activity and development of both groups. Dr. Dies-Suarez seeks participation from at least 10 children from each group, who will receive a year of training in a controlled classroom setting.
Recruitment among the group of blind children is proving somewhat complicated, since the parents of the children will need to transport them regularly to music class, but she hopes to present the results of the follow-up study at a subsequent RSNA meeting.