Music Therapy and Stroke Rehabilitation

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  • March 10, 2011
Music therapy after stroke

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.

9 Comments

  • carole says:

    Avant mon AVC, jetais une chanteuse, je n ai plus aucune melodie, je dois tout reapprendre, je me rends compte en stimulant mon cerveau, la melodie reviens, tranquillement, dans les debuts, Apres monAVC, mon timbre de voix etait toujours sur le meme ton, j avais aucune intonation, apres18mois , j ai un peu plus d intonation on doit mettre beaucoup d effort mais ca se replace

  • Vishwas Bhatkhande says:

    Yes,I do agree,that daily listening to classical music for at least 1.5hr-2.00hrs improves rehabilitation process.I am committing this with my self experience.I am a paralysis victim since last 2years,and,significant self dependency achived due to music therapy.

  • swapna says:

    To Vishwas Bhatkhande,
    Can you please tell ,which kind of music is useful? I want to use it for my friend facing paralysis sinc 3 months.Waiting for reply,thanks.

  • Antoine says:

    Dear Swapna,
    All styles of music can be useful for stroke rehabilitation. You can choose the music according to the stroke patient’s preferences and his goals for recovery.

  • swapna says:

    Thanks a lot for the prompt advice

  • Kaye Harvey says:

    My husband has had a hemorrhagic bleed of left frontal hemisphere nearly 6 weeks ago, and is now regaining his considerable vocabulary. We would like to try musical therapy. What genre of music is best for this aspect of recovery.

  • Adrienne says:

    My stroke has left me unable to play my cello or guitar. No strength or coordination in my left fingers. Any recommendations for a musical instrument I might be able top to play?

  • Bambi says:

    An autoharp is usually a good instrument to begin the process of being able to play again.

  • Charles says:

    Thank you all for your comments. My best friend of 40 years has had a massive stroke following two “mini strokes”. I am desperate to find any way to give him hope. He has previously suffered an aortic aneurism. I fear he may have given up the will to live, and am looking for any way I can encourage him to keep his faith. He has lost his ability to speak, and he can’t use his hands to write. I’m at a loss to know how to reach him with words. I was thinking that music might be more inspirational. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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