Sunday, February 9, 2014

Music Therapy - Enhancing Stroke Recovery

I have published music therapy articles on this blog before but I think this one is also worth passing on. This caught the eye of Marylee, our Executive Director, in the StrokeNet Newsletter web site she subscribes to. The article touches on some of the music and drum circle benefits we've noticed at our camps.  

This article was originally submitted in their February newsletter by David Wasielewski, a member of the StrokeNet Newsletter staff:

At a recent stroke group meeting a member with significant aphasia described his experience in joining a singing group, how his ability to sing was almost unaffected by his aphasia and that he had noticed some improvement in his normal speech that may have resulted from the singing. Some investigation and an email from Avi Golden, a Stroke Network member, brought to light some interesting information that demonstrates that singing and Music Therapy can help recovery from stroke in a variety of unexpected ways.

Music therapy research has demonstrated that this is an appropriate treatment for brain trauma recovery such as stroke. ‘Music therapy programs provide opportunities for clients to learn alternative means for undertaking daily tasks to accommodate for the neurological impairments that inhibit brain and physical function.’ It helps clients develop capabilities to recover what has been lost. Music Therapists can use music as a planning and memory tool.

Complex tasks are incorporated into a ‘song lyric’ to help survivors remember and organize all aspects of a complex task such as making a sandwich or getting dressed. Occupational and physical therapists have found that exercising to music helps survivors enhance recovery of physical functions, much the same as music helps healthy folks with ‘normal’ exercise routines. As we survivors often hear, much of the recovery from the trauma of stroke is dependent on neuroplasticity or the ability of the brain to rebuild function by developing new neural connections.

All Therapies encourage the rebuilding and of lost skills (recovery) or finding another brain function that allows the survivor to accomplish a task in a different way (compensation). Research in Music Therapy focuses on the ‘perception and production of music’ and its ‘effects on brain and behavior’. These effects on the brain can be categorized. One area of research focuses on how music and auditory stimulation relates to the synchronization of rhythmic physical movement.

Dance and jazzercise are examples of how music facilitates movement and physical memory. Does music enhance the brain’s ability to learn new motor skills? This research touches on the notion that music and its rhythmic character promote the synchronization of many related brain activities and that the simultaneous firing of these multiple groups of neurons helps promote recovery from the trauma of a stroke.

This follows the popular notion that neurons that fire together, wire together, creating effective new circuits. Repeating an experience utilizing musical rhythm enhances development of these new circuits and recovery of brain function. Music therapy is effectively administered according to the Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) model. Researchers have demonstrated that gait training, walking with auditory stimulation, music, is more effective than without that stimulation.

The same favorable effect has been demonstrated in non-physical functions. One researcher describes a client who could not accomplish the complex task of getting dressed in the morning. After learning a song that described the task, the patient became much better at completing the task independently. The stimulation of rhythm and language improved the client’s memory, motor planning and proper sequencing of dressing activities. Song lyrics supplemented with a melody and tempo helped overcome his deficits.

Aphasic patients see similar benefits. Survivors who undergo intense musical therapy are able to better generate phrases in ‘out of therapy’ situations. Aphasic survivors who have difficulty with word retrieval are able to self- generate learned auditory cues to help with word recovery. Music therapy and singing have been successful with increasing vocal range, breath control and rate of speech.

The demonstration of successful new music therapy interventions offers survivors alternatives and supplements to traditional PT and OT therapies. The added variety of brain stimulation provided through Music Therapy is not only effective in enhancing speech therapy but has also proven to be effective in non-speech related tasks like gait training and recovery of other physical functions.

Based on this research survivors might explore Music Therapy to supplement their current traditional treatments. A conversation with your therapist might lead to some additional progress in recovery

Thanks to Avi Golden and my stroke support group for suggesting this topic.

Reference: Neuroplasticity and Functional Recovery: Training Models and Compensatory Strategies in Music Therapy  Baker, Felicity: Roth, Edward A. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 13(1) 2004, pp. 20-32.
If you are interested in subscribing to the StrokeNet Newsletter go to:
It's free and there are many good articles on stroke related issues.



Lin Wisman said...
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Chuck J. said...

Thank you for your comment and thank you for letting us post this article. I encourage stroke survivors and caregivers to visit your site.