When it comes to stroke recovery, the healing power of music may have its roots in rhythm and long-term memory, according to recent research.
For people who have lost their powers of speech due to a stroke, regaining the ability to talk can be a daunting task. Occupational therapists use a variety of different methods to help stroke sufferers speak again.
Singing therapy, known to the scientific community as, "melodic intonation therapy," is one such technique. By having survivors sing and chant, this type of rehabilitation uses melody and song to help repair the brain connections severed by stroke.
New research, published online in the September edition of the neurological journal, Brain, suggests that the essential component of singing therapy isn't the crooning itself—as was previously thought—but rhythm and memory.
Stroke-induced speech disorders stem primarily from injury to the left side of a person's brain. But, oddly enough, even stroke victims who have significantly damaged the left side of their brain are often able to sing.
This phenomenon used to be chalked up to the fact that, even though the left-brain controls speech, the right-brain is responsible for singing.
Casting doubt on this assumption is the aforementioned study, conducted on stroke patients who had trouble speaking because of left-side brain damage. Thousands of spoken and sung phrases were analyzed by the study researchers to uncover the reasons behind the success of singing therapy.
They determined that rhythm and long-term memory, not the action of singing itself, may explain why this is often a successful speech therapy type.
Due to its small size, this study cannot be applied to all stroke sufferers. But, the scientists that led this research have already begun follow-up experiments that will hopefully lead to more useful forms of speech therapy.