Music can help people recover from stroke

Given its power to move us, perhaps it’s no surprise that a great deal of research has focused on whether or not music can help people with depression or anxiety. Now researchers in Finland have asked whether music can benefit people recovering from stroke. Their study is notable for its sound methodological quality, and the results are promising: music does indeed appear to make a difference to patients’ cognitive recovery.

Soon after their hospitalisation, 60 stroke patients were allocated randomly to one of three groups. Those in the music group were provided with a portable CD player and asked to listen to their favourite music for at least an hour a day for two months. Patients in the audio book group spent at least an hour a day for two months listening to audio books of their choosing. A final control group were not given a listening task.

Compared to the patients who listened to audio books and the control patients, the patients who listened to music daily showed superior performance when tested three months and six months later on measures of verbal memory and focused attention. Crucially, the psychologists who performed these neuropsychological assessments were unaware of which groups the patients had been in – making this a single-blind, randomised, controlled trial. The music and audio book patients also showed reduced depression and confusion compared with the control patients.

Teppo Sarkamo and colleagues who conducted the research said that music may exert these benefits by virtue of its wide-ranging impact on brain activity. Neuroimaging studies have shown that listening to music “naturally recruits bilateral temporal, frontal and parietal neural circuits underlying multiple forms of attention, working memory, semantic and syntactic processing, and imagery,” the researchers said. By contrast, the brain activity triggered by speech without music is less extensive and more focused on the language-dominant hemisphere (usually the left).

The new finding is consistent with research on animals showing that a stimulating environment can speed recovery after stroke. Yet the researchers noted with regret that many stroke patients are left in their rooms without much stimulation or interaction. “We suggest that everyday music listening during early stroke recovery offers a valuable addition to the patients’ care,” they concluded.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSarkamo, T., Tervaniemi, M., Laitinen, S., Forsblom, A., Soinila, S., Mikkonen, M., Autti, T., Silvennoinen, H.M., Erkkila, J., Laine, M., Peretz, I., Hietanen, M. (2008). Music listening enhances cognitive recovery and mood after middle cerebral artery stroke. Brain, 131(3), 866-876. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awn013

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

3 thoughts on “Music can help people recover from stroke”

  1. I guess the patients were aged (at least) over 65, and that their preferred music was in the realm of classical or older popular music which was structurally similar to classical music (some slower tempi, some use of triple time)It is important to specify what music these people did listen to – and even to an analyse, within the music-receiving group, who did best with what.Of course, the location of the stroke and the propensity to benefit from music will likely also be a part of the outcome. One may (sadly) forecast that as the decades march on, music preferences will be for rock-and-later popular music (less use of slower tempi, virtually no triple time). I have written elsewhere why triple time is so important to more complex mentation (references on request).

  2. This is quite interesting stuff.I was suffering from depression from 2 months.Then my doctor suggested me for ECT.but i went on to gather some resources and one of the resource helped me in treating depression naturally.This is also a natural way to treat depression–MUSIC..keep up the good work,james

  3. I have been a lover and performer of music since my boyhood days. When I had a stroke at 48 it was devastating. Caused by a Carotid Artery Dissection, it came on quickly and luckily I was in good health. I was a member of a top forty's rock group at the time, and I was paralyzed on the left side and my spelling and speaking skills had to be relearned. I began reading to myself out loud and tried my best to write a diary. My spelling skills immediately improved but I couldn't play or sing for the first six months, but about a year later began playing guitar again and singing with a barbershop quartet which was extremely challenging in my condition. My mental ability improved almost immediately with my return to music and I found that my concentration improved. Those who have stokes know how difficult it is to perform “normally” since everyone sees you as “Normal” when it take you twice as much energy to complete simple mental tasks. This has gotten easier over the years, but requires much more concentration. I am now part of a successful Western Quartet( and doing incredible stuff that I never imagined I could after my “BRAIN ATTACK”

Comments are closed.