A stroke happens when a portion of the brain is deprived of blood, and dies from lack of oxygen. This can happen because of a blot clot or because of damage to the blood vessels that supply the various parts of the brain. Until recently, the particular function that was carried out by the dead brain tissue was usually lost, resulting in paralysis or loss of speech. But now, new and exciting therapies are allowing stroke victims the ability to recover these lost abilities by re-routing the functions through other, undamaged portions of their brains. Rhythm Therapy is one of these new therapies.
Rhythm Therapy, is a non-manipulative unified system of color coordinates, sound enunciation, physical movements and the utilization of music, with an emphasis on rhythmic foundations. It is seems to stimulate growth of neural paths around damaged or dysfunctional portions of the brain, promoting harmonization of the left and right brain hemispheres. Rhythm Therapy has also been shown to enhance short-term memory, mind-body coordination, and to remedy impaired speech patterns.
Rhythm Therapy was discovered and developed by jazz drummer, Ronnie Gardiner, an American musician who has lived and performed in Scandinavia for over thirty years. Gardiner has performed with many of our century's greatest legends and he continues to perform while he balances his contribution to humanity through his development of this special therapy. He conceived the idea over twenty years ago as a result of a tragic loss and a personal crisis. The foundation, structure, and all the different sequences that comprise the evolved form of Rhythm Therapy were developed since then, in between his busy musical engagements.
In the fall of 1989, Gardiner was approached by the chairman of the Stockholm Stroke Association. An ardent music lover, the chairman asked Gardiner to initiate a training session with members of the association who desired some type of mental and physical stimulation. Rhythm Therapy was an immediate success. Participants sung praises of being able to speak better, of having a better memory and of acquiring an enhanced ability to concentrate while being less dependent upon the help of others. Other benefits from Rhythm Therapy were an enhanced social life, and, most of all, the feeling of power that stoke victims regained from the assertion of control over their lives. It seemed hard to believe that such benefits could come from such a simple form of therapy, but the results were obvious to everyone who participated.
Rumors of the success of Gardiner's therapy began to spread. His many patients began to refer to Gardiner as "the rhythm doctor." He soon added more classes to meet the escalating demands for this sessions, but Gardiner foresaw that the scope of Rhythm Therapy would be limited so long as he did not have an independent study done to verify and validate the beneficial results that his participants were experiencing. He sought the professional support of the Karolinska Institute's Neurosurgical Department at the Swedish Hospital. There he enlisted the services of an occupational therapist named Sofia Vikstrom. Rhythm Therapy was scientifically investigated in the fall of 1995 and the results of the study were published in the spring of 1996 in a paper titled, "An Occupational Therapeutic Evaluation of Persons inflicted with Stroke" by Sofia Vikstrom. The conclusions of this research were reported as follows:
"The results from this study based upon the investigated participants showed a significant improvement with regards to functions areas which measured motor speed, and coordination the arm-hand spatial capabilities according to Judgment of Line orientation, spoken word flow according to Functional Assessment of Speech, and short term memory according to sections of the Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test."
A Rhythm Therapy session requires two hours, punctuated by one twenty minute pause. It begins with a greeting, followed by deep breathing exercises and stretching movements which are accompanied by classical music. Next there is a follow up and review of the previous session. Then the therapist gives a detailed instruction of the new rhythm sequence to be learned. The goal of Rhythm Therapy is to learn an entire score, consisting of many learned sequences of music and corresponding body movements. The entire score can last between three to four minutes in duration. The score begins with easy sequences, using 40-60 beats per minute, and gradually increases in both complexity and speed to about 80-120 beats per minute.
Rhythmic Therapy uses color coordinated symbols representing different parts of the body; red for the left side, and blue for the right side. The therapist, facing the patients, uses red and blue gloves to help the patient follow and mimic the sequences. Each sequences is numbered to denote the order in which it must be performed. It can be performed standing or sitting depending upon the condition of the patient. Each patient is instructed to pronounce the color symbol while simultaneously performing the corresponding movement in accordance with the rhythmic beat.
Something magical appears to happen when this therapy is followed. The brains of Rhythm Therapy patients becomes exercised in coordination with their body movements. The classical music also plays a role in stimulating neural pathways. The whole process is quite enjoyable. Unlike traditional physical or cognitive therapies, Rhythm Therapy is fun. You can see it on the faces of the participants. It is perhaps the combination of mental, physical and emotional stimuli that enables the brains of these stroke patients to begin to heal themselves.
By late 1996, Rhythm Therapy was recognized by the Swedish medical establishment. Soon, other Stroke Associations in Sweden wanted to offer the course to their ailing members as well. Occupational therapists flocked to Gardiner's Rhythm Therapy classes to learn how to instruct their patients in the therapy as an alternatives to routine treatment. Many of their CVA (stroke) patients who had completed traditional therapies but were now passing their time in vegetative states. Rhythm Therapy offered new hope and stimulation for these patients.
In 1997, the media became interested in Rhythm Therapy and Gardiner participated in television interviews and was sought after by newspaper and magazine journalists. He lectured from one end of Sweden to the other. Since then, he has since taught several promising instructors to assist him in continuing and expanding his work. But the bulk of the responsibilities for educating future instructors continues to rest personally on him. Gardiner is currently writing a book for the medical therapeutic community, illustrating the road to his discovery in detail. The book will be called, simply, "Rhythmic Therapy."
Gardiner strongly believes that the possibilities of Rhythmic Therapy are dependent only upon the limitations of the instructor. Rhythm Therapy can be performed in all rehabilitative programs involving the brain, regardless of the underlying disease or injury. In the fall of 1997, Gardiner was given the opportunity to explore the benefits of his Rhythm Therapy with aphasia patients (people who have lost the ability to speak due to brain injuries). This was done in cooperation with the Aphasia Association of Sweden. Gardiner worked with patients as young as 25-45 years of age and noted that, after only one term, the students had experienced dramatically positive results.
How does Rhythm Therapy accomplishes what it does? In all honesty we do not know, but we do have some ideas. The brain is an organ. Like muscles and other body organs, the brain has to be challenged (worked) in order to develop. Rhythmic Therapy allows the brain to be challenged, and positively stressed, to the point that it stimulates growth rather than frustration and defeatism. It appears that the calculated positive stress built into the program stimulates the brain to cultivate alternate neural paths around the dysfunctional section of the brain, creating new and healthy connections.
However it works, Rhythm Therapy promises new hope for stroke patients, as well as victims of a wide variety of brain injuries. As researchers have suspected for some time, the brain appears to operate as a hologram, duplicating and storing memories and talents in multiple locations. If the injured pathways to these locations can be re-routed with Rhythm Therapy, there is no limit to the restorative possibilities.
For more information, contact the Rhythm Therapy Institutes:
Gardiner Rhythm Therapy Institute of North America
Attn: W. Moses Boone
40 Stimson Rd.
New Haven, Ct. 06511 Tel.: 203 / 777 7870
Gardiner Rhythm Therapy Institute of Europe
Attn: Ronnie Gardiner
127 44 Stockholm Sweden Tel./fax: 011 468 740 0433