Music can aid stroke recovery, research suggests

Listening to music can help stroke victims in their recoveries, new research has suggested.

On a series of tests of cognitive function, participants in a recent study showed improved recovery of memory functions when exposed to regular music.

In the study, published in the International Journal of Stroke, people were randomly allocated into three groups. One was asked to listen to music; another to music combined with mindfulness practice; and the last group to audiobooks.

Participants were asked to listen for an hour each day for eight weeks during their recovery immediately after discharge from the hospital.

Each participant then kept a daily written record of their listening activity.

Standardised tests of memory, attention and mood at the beginning of the study were also conducted, then at three and six months after stroke to determine how each participant’s cognitive functions and mood changed as a result of their listening.

In interviews at the end of the eight-week listening phase, participants in the mindful music listening group reported that listening helped them to relax, to focus and concentrate, and to manage emotions.

Stroke survivors protest organised by the Irish heart foundation at Beaumont hospital. last year (Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

Patients in the music listening group often said that the music increased their activity levels. Participants in both music listening groups talked of how music stimulated recall of memories from the past.

Previous research has suggested that daily music listening might improve memory and attention after stroke. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is known to improve general moods.

“We were keen to investigate whether combining music listening with mindfulness might help address some of the difficulties that people commonly face after a stroke…The results suggest that this may indeed be the case. We found that participants across all groups were willing to listen regularly and found listening to be enjoyable,” Dr Satu Baylan, from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said.

“We were very pleased that participants in the mindful music group felt that they were better able to re-focus their attention. We think that the intentional focus of mindfulness during listening, which encourages people to place themselves in the here-and-now when their mind wanders, might help individuals affected by stroke improve their concentration, reduce rumination in negative thoughts and feelings, and this may also help with their ability to recall information from memory.”

Researchers and clinicians from the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and East Anglia and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde carried out the study.

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It involved 72 participants recruited from acute stroke units within the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area in the UK.

Each patient had suffered an ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, caused when blood supply to the brain is blocked for example due to a blood clot.

Professor Jonathan Evans, the paper’s principal investigator and co-author, said that although more research would be needed, the results were “encouraging” and suggest that music could be a “low-cost intervention” for stroke victims which can be done from home.

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