Listening to music in the early stages after a stroke can improve a patient's recovery, research suggests.
The cheap, easy way to treat stroke?
The researchers compared patients who listened to music for a couple of hours a day, with those who listened only to audio books, or nothing at all.
The music group showed better recovery of memory and attention skills, and a more positive general frame of mind.
Writing in journal Brain, the Finnish team who studied 60 patients said music could be a useful addition to therapy.
Lead researcher Teppo Sarkamo, from the University of Helsinki, said music could be particularly valuable for patients not yet ready for other forms of rehabilitation.
It also had the advantage of being cheap and easy-to-conduct.
The study focused on 60 stroke patients who took part in the research as soon as possible after they had been admitted to hospital.
'IT HELPED ME'
Dot Johnson, 60, had a stroke 15 years ago, and spent seven months in hospital. She had physiotherapy and other treatments, but she remembers that music and sound from the television were always on in her room. She thinks that stimulated her mind, and helped her get better. She said: "I genuinely think that music actually helped."
The aim was to offer music therapy before the changes in the brain that can take place in the aftermath of a stroke had a chance to kick in.
Most of the patients had problems with movement and with cognitive processes, such as attention and memory.
Patients in the music group were able to choose the type of music they listened to. All patients received standard stroke rehabilitation.
After three months, verbal memory improved by 60% in the music group, compared with18% in the audio book group, and 29% in the non-listeners.
Focused attention - the ability to control and perform mental operations and resolve conflicts - improved by 17% in the music group, but not at all in the other two groups.
In addition, patients in the music group were less likely to be depressed, or confused.
Mr Sarkamo said: "Other research has shown that during the first weeks and months after stroke, the patients typically spend about three-quarters of their time each day in non-therapeutic activities, mostly in their rooms, inactive and without interaction, even although this time-window is ideal for rehabilitative training from the point of view of brain plasticity.
"Our research shows for the first time that listening to music during this crucial period can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood, and it has the advantage that it is cheap and easy to organise."
However, he admitted that further work was needed to confirm the study, and that it should not be assumed that music therapy would work all patients.
He said: "Rather than an alternative, music listening should be considered as an addition to other active forms of therapy, such as speech therapy or neuropsychological rehabilitation."
The researchers said it was possible that music directly stimulated recovery in the damaged areas of the brain.
Alternatively, it might stimulate more general mechanisms related to the ability of the brain to repair and renew its neural networks after damage.
Or it might specifically act on the part of the nervous system that is implicated in feelings of pleasure, reward and memory.
Dr Isabel Lee, of The Stroke Association, welcomed the research.
However, she said: "Further research into the effect of music on stroke patients needs to be undertaken before any widespread use, as presently the mechanisms of any effect remain unclear."
Read a selection of your comments:
My 3 year old son suffered from a rare form of Meningitis which led to a stroke. Throughout his 4 weeks in Southampton hospital, we put his mp3 player on him with his favourite music- Avril Lavigne, Marilyn Manson and even Metallica! He has since made a full recovery and is attending physiotherapy once a week. I definitely agree that music played a big part in his recovery as it was the familiarity that encouraged him to sing along and reclaim his memory.
Lauren, Poole, Dorset
I had a severe stroke 29 years ago at the age of 29. The television was on in my ward but that didn't help and neither did music. I was too mentally confused to even think of recovery.
M-H Lindsay, Cambridge
I had a stroke in 2000 and every day since, as throughout the wakeful years of my entire life, I have listened to Mozart. While I have no way of proving it, I have no doubt that I have been greatly helped in my rehabilitation by receiving stimulus from the music I like so much.
Terutoyo Taneda, San Diego, USA
I had a motorcycle crash when I was 15 years old, where I landed on my head. I had a bleed inside my brain which caused me to suffer a stroke. Due to the stroke I lost the movement on my right hand side and my speech, but if the radio was playing I would sing along.
Jim Walker, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Anything stimulating can help. My week in hospital was completely un-stimulating and I was left sitting around. As soon as I got out of hospital I was able to watch TV and interact with a completely marvellous family and begin to use the computer again... and here I am beginning to return to work within 3 months.
My mom had a severe cerebral stroke about 7 months back in the left side of the brain resulting in major speech deficit. Her general attention and comprehension seem to be fine but her vocabulary still remains a few words at best, strangely though, she can remember and sing the first few lines of most of the old songs that she likes.
Kiran Gireesan, Bangalore, India
I had my stroke 3 years ago. I have always taken part in music, singing in choirs from an early age, and one of my aims and objectives was to get back to singing and music. I listened to an eclectic mix of music through earphones as soon as I was able to. I don't know whether it helped but I was back singing with my choirs around 4-5 months after the stroke and my mobility has improved.
Frances Newell, Christchurch, Dorset