US scientists have restored speech to stroke victims by getting them to sing words instead of speaking them, a leading neurologist said here Saturday.
Gottfried Schlaug, an associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center and Harvard Medical School has found that patients who have suffered a stroke in the left side of the brain and are unable to speak words are often able to sing them.
He showed reporters at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) a video of a patient with a stroke lesion on the left side of the brain, whom he asked to recite the words of the birthday song.
The patient was unable to comply, and merely repeated the letters N and O.
But when Schlaug asked him to sing the song, while someone held the patient's left hand and tapped it rhythmically, the words "Happy birthday to you" came out clear as day.
"This patient has meaningless utterances when we ask him to say the words but as soon as we asked him to sing, he was able to speak the words," Schlaug said.
Another patient was taught to say, "I am thirsty" by singing, while another patient who had a large lesion on the left side of the brain and had for several years tried various therapies to try to regain the power of speech, all unsuccessful, was taught to say his address.
Images of the brains of patients with stroke lesions on the left side of the brain -- which is typically used more for speech -- show "functional and structural changes" on the right side of the brain after they have undergone this form of therapy through song, called Music Intonation Therapy (MIT).
Schlaug is currently running a randomized clinical trial of MIT with a view to gaining acceptance of the therapy in the medical field.
In the United States, MIT could potentially help up to 70,000 nonverbal stroke victims to retrieve the ability to speak, Schlaug said.