Music therapy found to help patients suffering from stroke or aphasia

There’s already some evidence that music therapy can help patients with stroke and ­aphasia – where they struggle to communicate. It can even improve memory and mood.

However, a trial at University College London Hospital (UCLH) will be the first time music therapy, such as playing an instrument or singing well-known songs, will be tested in patients with severe brain injury who are in a rehabilitation programme.

It’ll be an intensive programme lasting three to four months with inpatients referred for rehab at UCLH and it will form part of the patients’ rehabilitation in the hospital ward.

The team will look at a variety of measures before, during and after the therapy, including independence in daily activities, mobility, communication with loved ones, mood and other measures of wellbeing.

In music therapy sessions, patients will be invited to get involved in the music making and could try playing instruments, singing familiar songs, making up music from scratch, or a combination of those.

Trial lead, Dr Sara Ajina, of UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine, says: “A patient’s recovery from severe brain injury can take time and can be ­challenging. We already know that music can activate multiple brain regions and we hope to be able to provide robust evidence that inclusion of music therapy in a patient’s programme of rehabilitation is helpful.”

UCL and UCLH are working with the music therapy charity Nordoff-Robbins, which will deliver the music therapy sessions. Rebecca Burns, a music therapist at Nordoff-Robbins who will deliver the one-to-one therapy sessions, says: “Music can involve the whole person, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, making it an especially versatile tool in the context of neuro-rehabilitation.

“We know from research and from our own experiences that music has a range of positive effects. It can improve mood, stimulate positive memories, bring people together and help people to express themselves even if they struggle with verbal communication. Music can also make us want to get up and move.”

The trial was set up by Nicola Perkins – a speech and language ­therapist working within the UCLH neurorehabilitation unit.

In a feasibility study run in 2019 by Rebecca Burns, 100% of patients who had the therapy strongly agreed it can be helpful in improving self-esteem, social interaction and anxiety (92%), cognitive skills (88%), and communications skills and speech (84%).

Meanwhile, 76% felt the therapy had an impact beyond the sessions.