music therapy for stroke
Stroke survivors don't have to know how to play the piano to benefit from music therapy.

Music therapy has been around for long time - since before doctors started taking the Hippocratic Oath.  Even Hippocrates himself is said to have played music to his patients. Today music therapy is used as a treatment for a variety of mood disorders, mental health and neurological problems.  Some research has indicated benefits for people with dementia, Parkinson's disease, amnesia and aphasia.  New research now backs up previous research that indicated music therapy, specifically playing the piano, can help stroke survivors regain some of their lost ability to perform upper body and hand movements.

Stroke is one of the illnesses that will contribute to society not being able to cope with an ageing population.  Three out of four people survive a stroke and of those survivors, 58% will be left with some form of disability.  80% of stroke survivors have problems with general movement and a change of sensations in the body. As many as 70% are left with arm problems and 40% completely lose the ability to use one of their arms.  The risk of having a stroke rises with age and three times as many people aged 65 - 75 die from strokes than the 55-64 year age group.  By the age of 75, the toll has risen to ten times as many.  For those that do survive a stroke there are many challenges ahead and approximately 11% will never be independent again and will have to go into a care home.

Most stroke survivors need rehabilitation therapy after their medical treatment.  Some patients will find even the smallest things in daily life a challenge and will need help from speech therapists as well as occupational therapists and physical therapists.  The shock, sense of being at a loss and no longer being independent can lead to depression on top of the other physical problems that the stroke survivors are having to deal with. Depression can then affect the patient's motivation to do their rehabilitation exercises.

A research group in Montreal, Canada, carried out a simple case study involving 3 patients in 2013.  Their objective was to see if a specially developed piano training program that combined training with home practice, could help improve the manual dexterity in stroke survivors and if the therapy was as good as conventional rehabilitation therapy.  Their results showed that the patients had clear improvements in manual dexterity, finger movement coordination and that the improvements continued after a follow up period. The group has now carried out a larger study and confirmed their results. Tailor made piano training is a valuable tool for improving manual dexterity in stroke survivors.  The piano training is fun and is easy for the patient to self-manage and continue at home. Other benefits the researchers found included a high degree of motivation and engagement that their patients showed. This contributed to good adherence to the therapy and the whole rehabilitation process.


Villeneuve & Lamontagne. Playing piano can improve Upper extremity Function After stroke: Case Studies. 

Villeneuve et al. a piano training program to improve manual dexterity and upper extremity function in chronic stroke survivors. Front Hum Neurosci Aug 2014.


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