According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury every year. While nearly 80% are treated and released from emergency departments, many still feel the impact of injury in their everyday lives, well after the period of intensive care has ended.
Inspired by a friend who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), Theratune is a singing therapy application to make recovery brighter, more meditative, and regenerative. It was created over the course of 10 weeks during a part-time User Experience Design course at General Assembly.
Brain injury patients often find themselves with significantly reduced communication abilities, perhaps even rendered speechless. While the brain has high developmental potential between one to three months after the injury, the amount of physical, occupational, and speech therapy is often limited by the amount that insurance will cover. Struggling to communicate on a daily basis also commonly results in feelings of helplessness and depression. This project thus aims to address the following primary challenges:
1. How might we facilitate recovery through mobile technology?
2. How might we inspire positive mental health among patients in recovery?
solutions: how might we facilitate recovery through mobile technology?
Low cognitive yield.
In interviews with TBI and stroke patients, caregivers, and clinicians, fatigue is reported as the most likely factor to regress symptoms. The brain’s executive function can often be affected in injuries as well, making even simple choices a challenge. To avoid fatigue and choice paralysis, Theratune limits decision making by guiding users through a linear and intuitive lesson plan.
Mobile technology can provide repeatable interactive exercises and feedback at a lower cost than traditional therapies. To put it simply, "more therapy is better," as an app developer at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute stated in an interview. Like a fitness program, therapy is never truly “done:” people continue to benefit from doing exercises. The resulting lesson programming is therefore designed to inspire higher levels of practice, making the most of the brain’s post-traumatic developmental potential.
Melodic intonation therapy.
Language ability is usually located the brain’s left hemisphere, whereas areas for music are located in the right. Researchers have found that activating the brain’s right hemisphere with melodic intonation therapy, or musical speech exercises, can reduce the dominance of the damaged left hemisphere’s language areas. Theratune’s primary focus is thus to delivering engaging musical speech exercises through mobile technology, after exploring a few other initial first concepts.
solutions: how might we Inspire positive mental health among patients in recovery?
The joy of music.
If you can recall the last time you sang, it probably made you feel good. You’re not alone: people consistently rank music as one of life’s supreme sources of pleasure and emotional power, according to The New Yorker. As a part of researching Theratune, a survey was also conducted to understand sentiments about singing. When asked, How does singing make you feel?, happy was the predominant feeling reported among survey respondents.
But research revealed that people lack confidence when it comes to singing. 82% of respondents surveyed wished they could sing better, and all top preferred singing locations reported by free-form response are characterized by being alone (e.g. car, home, shower). Theratune helps to boost singer confidence by teaching basic musical principles (pitch, tone, rhythm) and providing encouraging feedback.
Singing requires active focus on the breath. Long recognized among practitioners of eastern medicine, deep breathing is proven to decrease stress levels and promote relaxation. Exercises in the application ease users into singing and encourage mindful breathing by prompting users to sing one note at a time.