February 20, 2008

Music Therapy Can Repair Brain Damage

Researchers in Finland reported today that music can speed recovery in stroke victims.  The researchers performed a study that showed a few hours of music each day soon after a stroke improved verbal memory and patient mood compared with those who did not listen to music.

The study is the first to show the effect of music as a treatment for stroke patients. Strokes are one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide.  They happen when blood flow to the brain becomes obstructed, killing brain tissue.  Treatments typically consist of blood thinning drugs and lowering cholesterol levels.

"These findings demonstrate for the first time that music listening during the early post-stroke stage can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood," the researchers wrote in a report published today in the journal Brain.

The Finnish study included 60 recent stroke victims whose stroke involved the middle cerebral artery in either the left or right side of the brain.  This is the most common type of stroke and typically affects speech and a range of other motor and cognitive functions.

The scientist divided the participants into two groups.  One group listened to either their favorite music or audio books every day, while the other had no exposure to music.  All 60 participants were given standard rehabilitation treatment.

Three months later, the scientists observed a 60 percent increased improvement in verbal memory compared to an 18 percent increase for those using audio books and 29 percent for those who did listened to neither.  

They team further observed a 17 percent improvement in ability to focus attention in music the listeners, said Teppo Sarkamo, the study's lead author and a psychologist at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit at the University of Helsinki.

"We can't say what is happening in the brain but based on previous research and theory it may be music listening could actually activate the brain areas that are recovering," he said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

It's possible that the music therapy might also in some way activate the general mechanisms that repair and renew the brain's neural networks after stroke, Sarkamo added. Although larger studies are needed to better understand exactly what is going on, these findings show that music may offer a cheap, easy additional treatment for stroke patients, he explained.

"This could be considered a pilot study," Sarkamo said. "It is a promising start.


On the Net:

The study was published today in the journal Brain. The full report can be viewed at  http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/awn013v1

University of Helsinki