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Music Therapy for Stroke Patients: How This Powerful Modality Helps Recovery

Music therapy can be a powerful addition to any stroke survivor’s rehabilitation regimen, and it provides a wide variety of benefits. Music helps stimulate multiple regions of the brain, and when it is incorporated into rehabilitative activities, it can have a significant impact on recovery.

To help you learn how music therapy boosts physical and psychological healing after stroke, this article will discuss:

What Is Neurologic Music Therapy?

Neurologic music therapy utilizes music, rhythm, and beat to help retrain the brain. This is appealing for stroke survivors because rewiring the brain, a process formally known as neuroplasticity, is the essence of recovery.

While the areas of the brain affected by a stroke sustain damage, the brain can make incredible adaptive changes through neuroplasticity. This is what creates the opportunity for survivors to recover functions affected by stroke. Surprisingly, music can help with this process, and the benefits of music therapy are substantial.

You’re about to learn the variety of benefits that music therapy offers stroke survivors. Before we dig in, it’s important to know that every stroke is different, and therefore every recovery is different. Not all survivors will be interested in music therapy for the same reasons, which is why your music therapist will evaluate your unique abilities and select various activities that are best suited for you.

Some of these activities may involve listening to music, creating music, or moving your body in sync with music. It all depends on what abilities you want to target and improve.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of music therapy, watch the video below:

Benefits of Music Therapy for Stroke Patients

Neurological music therapy can help stroke survivors recover a wide range of functions including but not limited to movement, speech, and cognition.  For example, if an individual is relearning how to walk after a stroke, a therapist may use a musical beat to help pace their steps. 

Here are some of the major benefits of music therapy for stroke patients:

1. Improves motor recovery such as hand and leg function

One of the most common secondary effects of a stroke is hemiparesis, which involves weakness on one side of the body. Almost 80% of survivors struggle with hemiparesis, which means that motor recovery is a popular goal during stroke rehabilitation.

Fortunately, this is one area where music therapy shines! Specifically, movement can be targeted with a technique called rhythmic entrainment, which is a music therapy technique that involves synchronizing movement to a rhythm. It can be applied to a wide variety of recovery goals.

For example, survivors can use rhythmic entrainment to improve their gait by walking along to a steady beat. Although this may sound like a simple practice, it’s proven to improve stride length and timing between steps.

Music therapy can also help improve hand function. For example, Flint Rehab’s MusicGlove, a music-based neurorehab device, uses rhythmic entrainment to sync hand movement with music for effective and enjoyable hand therapy.

One reason why music therapy helps with motor recovery is auditory stimulation, which prepares the motor cortex to anticipate movement. This improves muscle activation patterns and also influences physiological changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.

Hopefully you’re already convinced of the power of music therapy, but we’re only just getting started, because its benefits go far beyond motor recovery.

2. Helps improve speech for individuals with aphasia

Sometimes language and communication is affected by a stroke, often when the left hemisphere has been affected, which is where the language center of the brain resides. For example, a left hemisphere stroke may result in aphasia, a condition that impairs one’s ability to produce and/or understand speech.

To recover speech and language skills, therapists may recommend melodic intonation therapy, or “singing therapy.” This type of music therapy involves teaching individuals how to speak again through the act of singing.

While speech is a function regulated by the left side of the brain, singing is regulated by the right. This means that individuals that struggle with speech can often access the ability to sing. Through this type of music therapy, survivors can help promote neuroplasticity and encourage the reorganization of speech functions in the brain.

Watch how singing therapy helped a stroke patient improve their speech in the video below:

3. Boosts cognitive function like memory and attention

Along with movement and speech, music therapy can also help with cognitive recovery after stroke. One area of interest is memory. Studies have found that listening to music for at least an hour per day helped stroke survivors improve verbal memory and focused attention (compared to those who only listened to audio books or received no listening).

One way that a stroke can affect attention is through a secondary effect known as hemispatial neglect, or “left neglect.” With this condition, survivors lose the ability to notice things in the environment on their affected side. For example, a survivor with a left hemisphere stroke (which affects the right side of the body) may struggle notice you when approached from the right side.

Fortunately, another study found that listening to classical music helped improve left neglect in stroke patients. Although the study was small, music therapy is certainly worth trying since listening to music is an accessible, affordable therapy technique.

4. Improves mood and reduced depression

Aside from these physical benefits, music therapy is also proven to help improve your mood and reduce feelings of depression after stroke. This is good news as one in every three survivors struggles with post-stroke depression and psychological care should be prioritized.

Often, individuals with depressive disorders have low levels of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that primarily impacts motivation and reward perception. When you listen to music, the brain releases more dopamine as you unconsciously anticipate climaxes in the music, which can help improve your mood.

5. Promotes a powerful mechanism for recovery

As we mentioned earlier, neuroplasticity is the essence of recovery. It allows the brain to rewire itself by creating and strengthening neural connections.

To harness neuroplasticity to the best of your ability, it helps to focus on “massed practice.” This refers to practicing an activity with high repetition to help stimulate the brain. The more you perform a specific action, the better the brain gets at executing that function. The saying “practice makes perfect” comes from this phenomenon.

Therefore, when music therapy is combined with therapeutic exercises that are repeated on a consistent basis, it helps engage neuroplasticity and rewire the brain. For example, individuals that are interested in improving movement can benefit from practicing physical therapy exercises in combination with music therapy on a regular basis; or individuals that wish to improve speech can benefit from practicing singing therapy on a regular basis.

Passively listening to music alone helps activate neuroplasticity; and when music is combined with other therapeutic activities, it maximizes neuroplasticity to help boost recovery after stroke.

Now that you understand the various ways music therapy can help promote recovery after stroke, let’s wrap up this article with a practical at-home method for applying music therapy to your rehabilitation routine.

At-Home Music Therapy for Stroke Patients

Time with a music therapist is both valuable and often limited. Some survivors are fortunate enough to participate in music therapy once a week, which leaves six days in between sessions where neuroplasticity begins to wane.

To help keep the brain stimulated and maximize recovery, it’s important to continue with music therapy at home. Consistency is critical for neuroplasticity to work.

One way to achieve this is to use evidence-based rehab technology that combines music with the area that you want to work on. For example, if you want to improve hand function after stroke, the MusicGlove from Flint Rehab is a great option.

MusicGlove music therapy for hand recovery after stroke

To use this rehab device, you place the glove on your affected hand and then make various pinching movements in sync with a musical game. This rhythmic entrainment helps spark neuroplasticity and rewire the brain. Furthermore, the average user accomplishes hundreds of repetitions per half hour session with MusicGlove, which further activates neuroplasticity.

MusicGlove is clinically proven to improve hand function within just two weeks when used for half an hour per day. This demonstrates the power of music, consistency, and repetition for survivors that want to improve recovery after stroke.

Music Therapy for Stroke Patients: Key Points

Music therapy can serve as an effective form of therapy for stroke survivors because it makes it fun and motivating to practice high repetitions of activities that stimulate the brain. Consistently stimulating the brain encourages it to make adaptive changes. Therefore, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

We hope this article helped you understand how music therapy can help individuals improve their mobility, speech, and cognition after stroke.

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You’re Really on a Roll! See how Jerry is regaining movement with FitMi home therapy

My husband is getting better and better!

“My name is Monica Davis but the person who is using the FitMi is my husband, Jerry. I first came across FitMi on Facebook. I pondered it for nearly a year. In that time, he had PT, OT and Speech therapy, as well as vision therapy.

I got a little more serious about ordering the FitMi when that all ended 7 months after his stroke. I wish I hadn’t waited to order it. He enjoys it and it is quite a workout!

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Monica & Jerry’s FitMi review

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In Jerry’s photo below, you can see him with the FitMi pucks below his feet for one of the leg exercises:

FitMi is beloved by survivors and used in America’s top rehab clinics

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