What is Music Therapy?
According to Wikipedia, music therapy is a field of scientific research and an allied health disciple which studies the relationship between the process of clinical therapy and biomusicology, music theory, musical acoustics, psychoacoustics and comparative musicology.
A professional music therapist uses music and all its components – physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual – to help patients develop and sustain their health status. The main objective of treatment is for patients to improve their level of functioning and quality of life in different aspects (e.g. motor skills, cognitive functioning, social and behaviour skills, emotional and affective development) by using music such as singing, listening to and discussing music, moving to music, and song writing.
Music therapy can be found in all stages of development. Applications of music therapy include: development work (communication and motor skills) for patients with special needs, reminiscence/orientation work (song writing and listening) for an elderly patient, and processing and relaxation work (rhythmic entertainment for physical rehabilitation) for a stroke patient.
How Can Music Therapy Help Stroke Victims?
According to the American Stroke Association, music therapy has been scientifically and medically proven to be a valuable tool in rehabilitation after a stroke in areas of movement and muscle control, speech and communication, cognition, mood and motivation.
- Movement and muscle control improvement can be achieved by a steady beat, musical timing, and rhythmic patterns. Suggested activities include playing a drum to boost range of motion in the upper extremities, exercising to an upbeat music, and timing music to complement the usual walking pattern.
- To improve speech and communication in a stroke survivor, a music therapist uses rhythm, melody, and singing. Suggested activities include exercising mouth muscle, rhyming, chanting and rapping and singing the words and transferring them to speech.
- Cognition (memory, organization, attention and problem solving) can be enhanced by music and music structure. Suggested activities in this aspect include making a song with important information in its lyrics, performing in a band and rhythm repetition games.
- Lastly, to enhance mood and motivation and help in pain management a music therapist uses the emotional and aesthetic qualities of music. Suggested activities in this area include listening to music, recording and song writing, improvisation and musical performance. (e.g. playing a musical instrument).
The Impact of Music Therapy on Stroke Survivors
Music has been proven to have an effect on sections of the brain and it has a great impact on social interactions and emotions. Experimental and descriptive studies of music therapy have shown a significant improvement in quality of life, expression of feelings, awareness and responsiveness, positive associations, socialization and involvement with the environment.
More recent findings on music therapy suggest a decrease in depression, reduction of anxiety and improvement of mood. Researchers also suggest that music helps in motivating and creating a positive outlook among patients. Music therapy in combination with adjunct therapies significantly increases the rate of rehabilitation success among stroke survivors.
A promising study on Music Therapy and Stroke Patients
According to Teppo Sarkamo, a Finnish researcher at the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki Brain Institute, listening to music for a few hours daily can significantly improve a stroke patient’s early recovery. A study on 54 patients with right or left hemisphere middle cerebral stroke showed valuable improvement in verbal memory and focused attention after 2 months of music therapy. Patients who listened to music daily also had a more positive attitude compared to those who listened to audio books.
Based on these results, Sarkamo suggests that music should be a daily part of rehabilitation, since it is a “targeted, easy-to-conduct and inexpensive means to facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery”. The team also found that 3 months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60% in music listeners compared to 18% in audio book listeners and 29% in non-listeners. Similarly, focused attention — the ability to control and perform mental operations and resolve conflicts among responses — improved by 17% in music listeners, but no improvement was observed in audio book listeners and non-listeners. These differences remained six months after the stroke.