• Trial finds stroke patients' brain and motor functions improve when they are given music therapy in addition to regular stroke rehabilitation.
  • The patients' mood and concentration also improved.
  • Based on the results of the study, the researchers are preparing a proposal for the hospital to continue the music therapy sessions.

Music therapy can help improve brain and motor function in stroke patients, scientists say.

A new study has found taking part in music sessions can boost mood and improve concentration in patients recovering from stroke. Those participating in the two-year sessions alongside existing stroke rehabilitation treatment also reported physical benefits such as better arm function and gait.

Based on their trials, the researchers are preparing a proposal for an NHS-funded permanent music therapy sessions post on the stroke ward at the Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, where the study was conducted.

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Dr Alex Street, senior research fellow at the Anglia Ruskin University’s Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research, said: “The fact 675 sessions were carried out in two years is in itself an indication of the success of the treatment. Staff felt that using music and instruments allowed patients to achieve a high amount of repetition to help achieve their goals.

“They felt that the exercises appear less clinical, because the patients are playing music with the music therapist, and they are receiving immediate feedback from the exercises, through the sounds they create.”

The study involved 177 stroke patients who took part in the Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) sessions for two years. The sessions involved playing musical instruments such as keyboard, drums and hand-held percussion, along with touchscreen instruments on the iPad.

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Alongside the NMT sessions, the participants also took part in the existing stroke rehabilitation programmes, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and clinical psychology.

Playing instruments on a regular basis was found to improve the finger movements of the patients. The team also found the music sessions boosted mood, improved concentration and brain function, and had positive impact on patient engagement.

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But the team say further research is necessary to “establish potential effects of music therapy on recovery rate and length of hospital stay”.


The findings are published in the journal Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation.

Reader Q&A: How can music change our mood?

Asked by: Marty O’Neill, Glasgow

By changing the way we perceive the world. For example, in experiments in which people looked at smiley or sad face icons, the music they were listening to affected what they saw. Even a neutral face could be judged as happy when listening to happy music. Music also stirs up old memories without us intending it to, often bringing back emotions experienced at the time.

The rhythm or beat of music causes all sorts of bodily responses including tapping fingers and feet. A beat can even affect our heart rate and, when people sing together, their breathing may become synchronised and positive emotions increased.

These effects are perhaps not so surprising when we know that musical patterns affect the auditory brainstem, as well as the auditory cortex, parts of the neural reward system and other areas involved in memory and emotion.

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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.