Music Therapy is an emerging method that aims at helping stroke survivors go back to their functional lives. Sometimes included in an individual stroke rehabilitation program, Music Therapy (MT) addresses the physical limitations as well as the speech and communication deficits post stroke.
According to many research studies, music may stimulate multiple brain functions including motor function and attention among certain stroke patients. Hence, it can produce considerable effects on motor and psychological impairments after stroke. It can trigger the production of neurotransmitters, enhancing connections between the auditory and motor systems in certain stroke survivors. This, subsequently, can help the stroke survivor improve his walking and speech competency.
Many studies provide evidence that music enhances focused attention and verbal memory during neural recovery. Since sound is an important non-verbal means of communication, stroke survivors’ problems with articulation (because of difficulties with the motor aspects of speech) can be addressed through MT. During Music Therapy, patients are encouraged to sing and sustain single syllables to promote greater breath support. This aids in the throat muscle coordination and clarity of their speech.
Stroke survivors (with minor impairments) who have participated in musical training are found to have better memory, executive function (planning, organizing, problem-solving) and visuospatial. Since playing music engages multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, translating music notes into sounds restores stroke survivor’s fine motor movements, mathematical precision and emotional interpretation of the sound.
Interestingly, Music Therapy is not limited to listening to music today. It is now extended to singing and creating music for allowing the stroke survivor to express his creative self. Playing and listening to music may modulate emotions, communication and movements by modifying the activity of the brain areas involved in the perception and movement regulation. Similarly, making music can be considered as strong stimuli to activate the Limbic System and neurochemical circuits.
A music therapist, in collaboration with the stroke victim, explores numerous musical styles or rhythmic patterns to figure out which pattern(s) will help him resolve walking, balance and movement impairments. He picks music that matches the patient’s mood or brings back memories. Finding music that triggers memories help an individual preserve and even enhance cognitive function. Furthermore, the music therapist prescribes music-based exercises (in particular using rhythmical patterns) to improve motor, cognitive, and sensory functions, generally impaired by neurological damage after stroke.