Listening to music for a few hours a day can help boost a stroke patient's early recovery, according to Finnish researchers.

Their study of 54 patients who'd suffered a stroke of the right or left hemisphere found that those who listened to music for a few hours a day showed better improvements in verbal memory and focused attention, and had a more positive mood than those who listened to audio books or listened to nothing at all.

The study, published in the journal Brain, is the first to show this link between music listening and stroke recovery. The findings may prove useful in clinical practice, the researchers said.

The Study

The two-month period of music therapy began as soon as possible after the stroke patients were admitted to the hospital. The patients, who made their own music selections, were followed and assessed up to six months after the stroke.

"We found that three months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60% in music listeners, by 18% in audio book listeners and by 29% in non-listeners," said study author Teppo Sarkamo of the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki Brain Institute. "Similarly, focused attention—the ability to control and perform mental operations and resolve conflicts among responses-improved by 17% in music listeners, but no improvement was observed in audio book listeners and nonlisteners. These differences were still essentially the same six months after the stroke."

Patients in the music listening group were less depressed and confused than non-listeners.

Possible Explanations

The researchers said three neural mechanisms might be involved in how music helps stroke patients' recovery…

  • Improvements in alertness, attention, mood, mediated by a part of the nervous system (known as the dopaminergic mesocorticolimbic system) that plays a role in pleasure, reward, arousal, motivation and memory.
  • Direct stimulation of the recovery of damaged areas of the brain.
  • Simulation of mechanisms related to brain plasticity—the ability of the brain to repair and renew its neural networks after damage.


"As a result of our findings, we suggest that everyday music listening during early stroke recovery offers a valuable addition to patients care-especially if other active forms of rehabilitation are not yet feasible at this stage—by providing an individually targeted, easy-to-conduct and inexpensive means to facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery," said Dr. Sarkamo.

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