Washington, Feb 20 : Researchers from Finland have found that listening to music in the early stages after a stroke can improve patients' recovery.
They found that if stroke patients listened to music for a couple of hours a day, their verbal memory and focused attention recovered better and they had a more positive mood than patients who did not listen to anything or who listened to audio books.
Teppo Sarkamo, a PhD student at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, at the University of Helsinki and at the Helsinki Brain Research Centre, the first author of the study, studied patients who had suffered a stroke of the left or right hemisphere middle cerebral artery (MCA).
Sarkamo and colleagues involved 60 patients to the single-blind, randomised, controlled trial between March 2004 and May 2006 and started to work with them as soon as possible after they had been admitted to hospital.
"We thought that it was important to start the listening as soon as possible during the acute post-stroke stage, as the brain can undergo dramatic changes during the first weeks and months of recovery and we know these changes can be enhanced by stimulation from the environment," Sarkamo said.
As a result of the stroke, most of the patients had problems with movement and with cognitive processes, such as attention and memory.
The researchers randomly assigned them to a music listening group, a language group or a control group.
During the next two months the music and language groups listened daily to music or to audio books respectively, while the control group received no listening material. All groups received standard stroke rehabilitation.
"We found that three months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60 percent in music listeners, by 18 percent in audio book listeners and by 29 percent in non-listeners," Sarkamo said.
"Similarly, focused attention-the ability to control and perform mental operations and resolve conflicts among responses-improved by 17 percent in music listeners, but no improvement was observed in audio book listeners and non-listeners. These differences were still essentially the same six months after the stroke," Sarkamo added.
Also, the researchers found that the music listening group experienced less depressed and confused mood than the patients in the control group.
"These differences in cognitive recovery can be directly attributed to the effect of listening to music," Sarkamo said.
"Furthermore, the fact that most of the music (63 percent) also contained lyrics would suggest that it is the musical component (or the combination of music and voice) that plays a crucial role in the patients' improved recovery.
"I would like to emphasise the fact that this is a novel finding made in a single study that is promising but will have to be replicated and studied further in future studies to better understand the underlying neural mechanisms," Sarkamo added.
The study is published online in the medical journal Brain.