Page last updated at 00:53 GMT, Sunday, 20 December 2009

Stroke patient says Kenny Rogers helped brain recovery

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

a guitar player
Music can help the brain recover

Mike Pensom loves country and western music, particularly anything by Kenny Rogers.

He hates hip hop and rap.

But recently Mike found that his musical likes and dislikes also have a profound effect on his brain.

Twenty years ago Mike had a stroke which caused problems with the left-hand side of his body and left him missing things in part of his field of vision.

Favourite tunes

But when scientists played him his favourite tunes he has seen more - and when they played the stuff he did not like there was no change.

Professor Glyn Humphreys, of Birmingham University's school of psychology, said that about 60% of people who have had a stroke, like Mike, suffered from 'visual neglect'.

When they played Kenny Rogers for me I was able to spot things that I was not able to see before
Mike Pensom

Neglect occurs when the right parietal lobe of the brain, which affects space and navigation, is affected.

The scientist found those affected would behave as if the left side of sensory space were nonexistent.

In extreme cases, they might not eat the food on the left side of their plate, or if asked to draw a clock, their drawing might only show the numbers 12 and one to six, the other half being distorted or left blank.

This changed when they listened to their favourite music.

"They became aware of things on their bad side that were often missed if they were not listening to it," he said.

"We also did some functional brain imaging - and what we showed was that activity, around where the stroke had been, increased."

Study sooner

All those studied had suffered a stroke longer than three years previously, but Prof Humphreys said the improvements, which last at least a day, might have even better results if the experiment had been carried out sooner.

Strokes can be caused in two ways - one way is a blockage in an artery in the brain by a clot. This is called an ischaemic stroke.

Mike Pensom
Mike now listens to more music

Less common is a rupture of an artery causing a brain haemorrhage, suffered by Mike - this is called a primary intra-cranial haemorrhage.

Mike, aged 62, from Birmingham agreed that he had noticed a difference when he was played the music.

"When they played Kenny Rogers for me I was able to spot things that I was not able to see before.

"They had me sitting in front of the computer and showed me images. Because of my vision some parts of the image were missing in the bottom left hand corner. But when they played the Kenny Rogers I saw more of the picture.

"I haven't got one of those new-fangled things with headphones to listen to my music, but I do like listening to my CDs. And now, knowing it helps, I do play even more music."

Andrea Lane from The Stroke Association said the work at Birmingham provided a good base for further research.

'"This trial has shown some very interesting outcomes and have provided lots to think about in terms of rehabilitation and how music therapy may benefit stroke patients."

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