Music May Benefit Stroke Survivors

We're all familiar with the old saying; ‘Laughter Is The Best Medicine', popularized in the 70's and 80's by Readers Digest magazine. However a recent article published by Laura Williamson in The Epoch Times reports that Music may come in as a close second. Especially for stroke survivors.

A blood artery in Julie Stillman's brain burst when she was 55 years old. Her hemorrhagic stroke left her unable to form even simple sentences, which was a devastating blow for a woman who had built a career in publishing. Stillman, who is now 69, is one of many dozen stroke and brain injury survivors who sing in the Aphasia Choir of Vermont. A number of such choirs are cropping up throughout the world, providing stroke survivors and individuals living with dementia or other brain injuries with one of the few remaining ways of communication.

It's like magic to hear that clarity and volume, said Stillman's husband, Jeff Nagle, whose last flowing discussion with his wife was over the phone 14 years ago, an hour before he discovered her on the floor of their home.

stoke victims and music

Aphasia, a speech impairment caused by brain injury that makes it difficult to communicate or understand language, affects roughly one-third of stroke survivors. However, scientists have long known that even when people with certain varieties of aphasia lose their capacity to talk, they can sometimes sing, a fact ascribed to the separate parts of the brain responsible for music and language production.

Positive Effects of Music

Studies of this phenomena and how music affects the brain have led to the development of a number of music-assisted therapies, such as melodic intonation therapy, which teaches stroke survivors to interact rhythmically in order to strengthen brain connections. Other therapies emphasize music listening or teaching people how to play musical instruments like the piano or drums.

A increasing body of evidence suggests that these interventions can aid in the recovery of stroke survivors.

Researchers released a study in the journal Brain in 2008 that indicated that listening to music for an hour a day during the early stages of stroke rehabilitation increased memory, concentration, and mood. A follow-up study published in 2014 shed light on how and why: Music made anatomical changes in the parts of the brain that control verbal memory, language skills, and focused attention. Researchers discovered that vocal music was superior to instrumental music or listening to audiobooks in generating brain alterations that resulted in memory and language rehabilitation.

Karen McFeeters Leary, the speech-language pathologist who started Vermont's aphasia choir, knew from her work in speech pathology that stroke survivors could sing.

We always tested individuals's capacity to sing while evaluating people with strokes or speech impairments, said Leary, who is himself a singer and songwriter.

When Leary started the choir in 2014, there were just 11 stroke survivors and their wives and carers. Stillman and Nagle were among the first to join. She finds volunteers through stroke support groups and the University of Vermont's speech and language pathology program and clinic.

To her astonishment, the choir swiftly grew into something far more than a way for individuals to express themselves through song. They meet others who understand what they're going through through the choir.

In a different way than speech therapy, the choir has been a wonderful support group, according to Nagle. Another choir member recommended them to an adaptive kayaking organization, which uses special equipment to assist stroke survivors and others with physical limitations to paddle with one arm.

Nagle also believes that during choir season, which runs from March to June and concludes in a free public concert, his wife's language talents increase.

According to researchers like Pablo Ripollés, frequent music participation may be making an impact. Ripollés was one of a group of researchers who discovered how listening to music modifies brain structure in stroke survivors as an assistant professor of psychology and associate director of New York University's Music and Audio Research Laboratory in New York City.

According to Ripollés, scientists know that giving a rich environment can excite the brain and facilitate healing after a stroke. His studies have focused on the use of music to give that enrichment, particularly during the early phases of recovery when people's abilities are limited. Even if they are unable to walk, you may give an enriching environment by allowing them to listen to music. The benefits of music therapy vary, and the extent of brain injury has an impact on how effectively it can recover.

According to Ripollés, “we have excellent proof that music therapy works in those who haven't experienced catastrophic brain damage.”

He believes that further study is needed to determine whether music therapy is more beneficial than regular speech therapies. Stroke survivors can, in the meantime, listen to their favorite music or join a choir if one is available in their area.


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