Just listening to your favorite tapes or CDs may help you recover from a stroke. The prescription: listening to music for at least an hour a day. The type of music doesn't matter: pop, rock, classical, jazz and folk songs all were selected by recovering stroke patients who took part in a study in Finland—and all had the same benefits.
Strokes occur when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Speech, memory or movement may be impaired, depending on the brain area affected and the amount of damage caused by the interrupted blood supply. The notion that music can help came from the knowledge that the brain begins to heal early in recovery. What patients hear, see and smell (and the movements they begin to relearn in rehab) all provide stimulation that helps the recovery process.
To test the theory that music can make a difference, researchers in Finland compared improvements among stroke patients who listened to music with those of a similar group who listened to audio books instead and a third group who didn't listen to anything.
After three months, memory among the music listeners had improved by 60%, compared with only 18% among patients who listened to audio books and 29% among those who did no listening. The ability to focus their attention improved by 17% among patients in the music group but not at all among patients in either of the other two groups. What's more, patients who listened to music were less depressed and confused than the others.
Don't expect music to replace speech, occupational or physical rehabilitation, warns Teppo Särkämö, the head of the research team that conducted the study. Music won't work alone, but it may be a big help.