Research has showed that listening to music can speed recovery from debilitating strokes.
The study conducted in Helsinki randomly assigned 60 patients admitted to hospital, to a music group, a language group and a control group. All patients had suffered a stroke of the left or right hemisphere middle cerebral artery and many were left with problems of mobility or with cognitive process, like attention and memory.
Every day one group listened to at least two hours of music, which was of individual choice, mostly of Finnish- or English-language pop. "The idea was to include only music with lyrics the patients could understand," said Teppo Sarkamo, a PhD student at the Department of Psychology at the University of Helsinki and lead author on the study.
A second group listened to audio books, and a third to neither.
Results of the study published in the journal Brain
showed that in those who listened to music for a couple of hours each day, verbal memory and attention span improved significantly compared to patients who received no musical stimulation, or who listened only to stories read aloud.
Those exposed to music also experienced less depression than the other two control groups.
Sarkamo said, "We found that three months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60 per cent in music listeners, by 18 per cent in audio book listeners and by 29 per cent in non-listeners."
He also observed, "Similarly, focused attention - the ability to control and perform mental operations and resolve conflicts among responses - improved by 17 per cent in music listeners, but no improvement was observed in audio book listeners and non-listeners. These differences were still essentially the same six months after the stroke."
"Stroke patients typically spend about three-quarters of their time each day in non-therapeutic activities, mostly in their rooms, inactive and without interaction," said Sarkamo. This observation led this neuroscientist to lead this study on patients recuperating from strokes.
A spokesman for The Stroke Association, said: "This promising research provides an interesting indication of the positive effects listening to music can have on a stroke survivor's recovery and the potential for its future use in the rehabilitation process."
According to the research team, these findings need be replicated by other larger-scale clinical trials "before music is systematically integrated into the recovery regimen of stroke patients."
But if validated, the study points to an easy and cost-effective therapy for recovering stroke patients.