The Longevity

MedRhythms Developing Smartphone-Based Music Therapy for Stroke Survivors

A Portland, Maine based team is working on a device that would provide stroke survivors with digital access to music-based mobility therapy.

We all know firsthand that music can improve your mood, but it can also have real, measurable effects on brain chemistry. A Portland-based startup tech company is developing a new device that’s designed to improve mobility in people who’ve had strokes by retraining the brain to walk again, using the music of their choice.

At a coworking space in Portland, neurologic music therapist Brain Harris works with two stroke survivors. He and his team at MedRhythms are testing a device dubbed The Stride that they hope will soon revolutionize the world of music therapy.

“With them it’s like, oh my goodness. I felt like I was walking so fast. I’ve never walked that fast in my life. I felt like I wanted to run,” says Deb Hanmer, who is participating in the trials.

Because the therapy will be delivered via smartphone, Harris hopes to make music therapy accessible even to those patients who live in rural areas or have a hard time getting around.

Music therapy, Hanmer says, has never been available where she lives in Dixfield, which is one of the problems Harris hopes to solve by delivering therapy through smartphones.

The device uses a small sensor attached to the patient’s ankle to analyze a patient’s gait and then instructs them to walk in tempo with music, which gradually speeds up as they become more comfortable. The therapy is an offshoot of neurologic music therapy (NMT), an evidence-based type of therapy focused on repairing neurological pathways.

In the last 20 years, a more science-based approach to music therapy has emerged. Neurologic music therapy, or NMT, is a subdiscipline that focuses specifically on treating neurological conditions, the goal being to repair damaged pathways in the brain caused by disease.

“We’re a digital medicine company that is using sensors and artificial intelligence and music to build products based in neuroscience to help people improve walking,” Harris says.

Here’s how it works: The patient wears a small sensor clipped to their ankle. As they begin to walk, the sensor analyzes their gait.

“That data is then fed into our algorithm, which is mobile phone-based or smartphone based, and our algorithm changes music in real time guided by neuroscience principles of how music and primarily rhythm can improve walking, and this happens in a closed looped manner,” Harris says.

If the patient can walk in time to the beat, the app will slightly increase the tempo to encourage the patient to go a bit faster.

If the project manages to clear some major hurdles (including developing reimbursement schedules and finding funding), the group plans to launch the device in mid 2019.

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