Music therapy, does it work? Find out what stroke survivors think of the experience

September 28, 2018

As stroke survivors, our goal is to regain as much of our function as possible. The best way to do that is to stimulate all our senses as intensely as we can during training. Multimodal rehabilitation is a type of rehab that steps up to the task. By combining enriching sensory environments with task-specific exercises, we engage as much of our physical, sensory, social, and cognitive activities simultaneously. And what better way to enhance the experience than with music? Music isn’t just for ears but can activate our brain in incredible ways. It can encourage complex thinking and integrate the rest of our senses in our brain.

Using music for stroke therapy isn’t a new concept by any means.

Ronnie Gardiner, a professional jazz drummer, is a musician who created a treatment program called The Rhythm and Music Therapy of choice (R-MT). This program is geared to improve not only sensory and motor function but cognition too. When stroke survivors tried it, they felt more confident and capable, able to perform complex tasks better. Many of the patients were in the late phase of recovery, feeling estranged from their now unfamiliar bodies. R-MT actually helped many of these people become more connected with their bodies again.

Researchers tested R-MT for stroke patients.

Swedish researchers did a study on R-MT and selected 15 late-stage stroke survivors to participate in the experiment. These participants enrolled in 1 of 3 training groups: a group receiving R-MT, a horseback riding group, or a control group that received R-MT after a year. Subjects trained in two, 90-minute sessions every week for 12 weeks, then they were followed for 2 years. Researchers would interview the patients to gain insight as to how each therapy benefited the patients.

What happens during R-MT?

R-MT consists of rhythmic hand and foot motions that require a lot of coordination. Inspired by drumming, moves include clapping your hands or stomping your feet to music. Though it’s fun like dancing, it’s not choreographed. There’s no pre-set sequence of movements. Instead, you’re expected to perform on cue. Movements are cued by specific sounds and visual symbols color-coded for left and right. This impromptu “dance” keeps you on your toes! Everyone goes at their own pace, but all the patients noted personal improvements by the end of the 12 weeks.

What the patients thought of R-MT

At the end of the study, researchers interviewed each participant. Using open-ended questions, they got honest feedback on the experience. Most participants thought R-MT was pretty demanding both physically and mentally. You have to be 100% concentrated, or you’ll quickly lose track. But, people thought it was FUN. Moving to music made it more of a game than a workout. Much like dancing, music helps make hard work become a hobby! And R-MT works. Patients reported that their affected arm moved better and with improved coordination. Many patients also experienced improvements in walking. It seems like R-MT is a great way to help stroke patients even in the chronic phase.

Besides the physical benefits of R-MT, simply being in group training has its own impact. Group training gives you a community of people who share your struggles. However, it can also bring about tension if there are disagreeable people in the mix. Sometimes, it’s hard not to compare yourself with others, which can be discouraging at times. But you can choose to look at the bright side and use other people’s success inspire you.

Music therapy may be a unique way to help stroke patients

We may not see music therapy hitting every stroke center tomorrow, but we do see a benefit for long-term stroke patients. We know recovery is harder in the chronic phase of stroke, so it’s nice to see more options being explored. Not only does R-MT seem effective, but it’s fun to do! What a great perk to help motivate us when times get tough.

Want to know more about how music therapy can help your recovery? Check out our interview with Qwiek to find out how they are impacting rehabilitation centers with their innovative approach.

The lead author of this study was Peter Pohl, from the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Editorial note:

Music therapy shows real promise as patients report positive results.

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