Brain Health

Singing Supports Stroke Rehabilitation

The benefits of music therapy for patients with dementia made news recently, and now singing is making its way to the forefront as a therapy to help patients recovering from a stroke.

Understanding aphasia

Aphasia has most recently come to the public’s attention after “Die Hard” star Bruce Willis was diagnosed with it. Not to be confused with a cognitive disorder, aphasia is an acquired language disorder resulting from damage to (usually) the left side of the brain. Although most commonly caused by stroke, it can also occur after a brain tumor, head injury, or age-related brain tissue deterioration. Aphasia can make it difficult to comprehend, speak, or write words.

Because approximately 25%-40% of stroke survivors experience aphasia and half retain the language impairment a year post-stroke, it can have debilitating effects on daily function and quality of life.

Why singing?

Researchers from the University of Helsinki knew that previous research had shown that even in cases of severe aphasia, the ability to sing can be retained. But because singing—especially choral singing—hadn’t been widely studied as a form of aphasia rehabilitation, they wanted to test it out on stroke patients with aphasia.

The study used a variety of singing elements, including:

• choral singing

• melodic intonation therapy (in which speech production is practiced gradually by utilizing melody and rhythm to progress from singing to speech)

• tablet-assisted singing training

A trained music therapist and trained choir conductor led the rehabilitation therapy.

Although melodic intonation therapy has been used alongside speech therapy in the past with individuals, it requires a number of resources. By using singing-based group rehabilitation, the therapy is not only more affordable and accessible, but also provides peer support for both patients and their family members and/or caregivers.

Using a randomized controlled crossover trial, the researchers were able to show that compared to standard care, the singing intervention improved everyday communication and responsive speech production from baseline to 9 months. Additionally, the singing intervention enhanced the patients’ social participation and reduced the caregivers’ burden.


Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.

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