Music therapy can aid in post-stroke cognitive, speech, and motor rehabilitation, assist in mood regulation, and help individuals navigate difficult emotional changes and challenges

Each time I hear a story of someone’s beloved family member or friend who suffered a stroke, and never spoke again, I am left wondering if music therapy could have made a difference. I think of all the lives affected by the tragedy, loss, heartache, and the frustration of losing the ability to communicate effectively, perhaps on top of hemiplegia or hemiparesis, or cognitive deficits. Music therapy has become standard care in many of the world’s leading rehabilitation hospitals, is reimbursable through insurance, and stands firmly on the foundation of a substantial body of research and clinical experience. Every stroke survivor should have access to music therapy, when clinically indicated.

When you hear a song you like, you might feel like you’ve just got to get up and dance, or you just have to sing along. You may notice that your mood shifts, or you feel more motivated. Maybe you use music when you’re cleaning, exercising, or to help young children follow instructions. The pull and power of music is what makes it a potent and transformational tool in neurorehabilitation, and the global processing of music throughout all areas of the brain provides unmatched flexibility as a therapeutic mechanism.

Nearly 30% of stroke survivors experience symptoms of depression, which can hinder functional gains and contribute to social isolation, and may be masked by sleep disturbances or aphasia. Music therapy can be a focused or multi-tasking modality, working in multiple domains simultaneously or sequentially, (Clements-Cortes & Haire, 2019). For example, the act of expressing oneself vocally in service of improving speech may also improve mood. Similarly, a focus on improving emotional symptoms may yield increased motivation and desire to engage in the potentially daunting task of physical rehabilitation, increasing treatment adherence. Additionally, music therapy techniques can decrease perceived exertion when compared to traditional occupational therapy, (Lim, H. et al 2011).

Moving beyond standard MIT, or Melodic Intonation Therapy, as is common in speech therapy, music therapy provides the opportunity for creative self-expression through improvisation within the context of a developing interpersonal relationship, creating additional motivating factors for the patient/client. When the music therapist validates the musical and emotional expressions of the client, the client feels more invested in the session, and the positive feedback from the therapist drives the client to continue on in the work. Rather than superfluous, the emotional component moves forward the rehabilitative aims of the session, and solidifies the gains made by activating more areas of the brain, making the experience more neurologically meaningful.

While researchers are still working to determine if there is a “golden period” for the use of music therapy in stroke rehabilitation, it is well-known that neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt to change through reorganization and the formation of new neuronal connections, persists into adulthood. Therefore, stroke rehabilitation can still be effective many months or years after the injury.

Subscribe to this blog to learn more about how music therapy can help stroke survivors, and stay tuned: in the coming months, we’ll be taking a deep dive in to music therapy for:

  • Cognitive rehabilitation
  • Speech rehabilitation
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Emotional support

Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by a stroke? Contact Bloomsburg Music Therapy for a 30-minute consultation.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Clements-Cortes, A., and Haire, C. (2019). Individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI): implications for music therapy in the treatment of depression. Music & Medicine, 11(2), 108-114.

Lim, H.A., Miller, K., Fabian, C. (2011). The effects of therapeutic instrumental music performance on endurance level, self-preceieved fatigue level, and self-perceived exertion of inpatients in physical rehabilitaiton. Journal of Music Therapy, 48(2), 124-148.

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