Music for Stroke Victims

For the past week, I have spent every evening in the neurological unit of Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel to provide healing music and therapeutic singing sessions to a patient recovery from a major stroke less than two weeks ago. The sister of the fifty year old stroke victim was enthusiastic about having me come in during the first days after the stroke – even as her brother lay in the Intensive Care Unit.

My first visit to the Neuro Surgical Intensive Care Unit occured just two hours after he returned from surgery. He was still highly sedated, though when I began to sing, his eyes looked up towards his brain as if he were looking at the electronic pulses connecting the two hemispheres. It was so striking to me that I stopped singing. Perhaps it was too much?

I asked him: Silence? Or more music? He looked at me, not so able to speak, yet focusing upon something inside, when suddenly he responded in a clear voice: “More music. Play more music.”

It was astounding.

Researchers from Finland 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. This is the first time such an effect has been shown in humans and the researchers believe it has important implications for clinical practice.

“As a result of our findings, we suggest that everyday music listening during early stroke recovery offers a valuable addition to the patients’ care- especially if other active forms of rehabilitation are not yet feasible at this stage-by providing an individually targeted, easy-to-conduct and inexpensive means to facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery,” says Teppo Särkämö, the first author of the study.

Less than ten days later, the patient was moved out of the intensive care unit to a regular hospital room. When I sing, I ask him to conduct imagery exercises – imagining he is moving his legs, getting up, yet without trying to physically do it. His recovery is amazing the doctors and his family alike.

Yesterday, he actually sang with me. It was so exciting.

Since it is too early a stage to know exactly what the long term ramifications are – and he also can speak, I implement wordless singing. Since wordless singing is pre-cognitive, I believe that it exercises both hemispheres simultaneously.

It would be wonderful to have this medically tested.

What are your experiences with music and stroke? Or music and brain functioning, and specifically wordless singing?

Leave A Response