Different music genres’ own unique contributions to wellbeing have been the focus of recent Medley blog posts on music, from musicals to folk to ballet – and I hope to return to this theme to explore other genres. But this time I want to look at music for wellbeing from another angle, by concentrating on a particular situation where music can make a proven difference.
28th May is Stroke Awareness Day, an opportunity to act and to share but also an opportunity to reflect how arts and creativity can have a positive impact on people following a stroke. I want particularly here to focus on music and singing, which are widely known to help. They’re even highlighted by a Stroke Association fundraising campaign at the moment featuring soprano Laura Wright, who says how she has seen music help stroke survivors. The Stroke Association is drawing attention to the way research funds hav edeclined during the pandemic, limiting their progress.
Music and singing can be specific tools for use in stroke rehabilitation, or they can simply be a haven for people to enjoy themselves as they adjust to life following a stroke. A lot will depend on the severity of the stroke, the pace of the person’s recovery, and aso what opportunities they come across to try music therapy.
The Stroke Association is one of many organisations which demonstrate the power of music. The American Stroke Association says that music therapy can improve movement, balance and memory as well as speech. It is these wider impacts which have been more unexpected. Scientists have long seen clear links betweem speech, language and music, which all involve one part of the brain. Impacts on motor functioning and movement have only come to light more recently. For example, a report in Neurology Times in 2018 quoted studies of music’s impact on motor recovery, such as a 2016 review of research entitled “Improvement in Stroke-Induced Motor Dysfunction By Music-Supported Therapy”. All this underlines the importance of music.
Research focuses more on specific music therapy, but many people recovering from a stroke find other experiences of music and singing helpful as well. Choirs and other singing groups set up and run for, with or by stroke survivors may or may not involve actual music therapy, but have a very positive impact, particularly on people whose strokes have left them with aphasia (speech issues).
Singing can simply be liberating. It may free people to respond as they are drawn in by the music instead of focusing on the difficulties of forming words. Also, as vocabulary can be an issue in aphasia, singing may be easier than talking as you sing the lyrics rather than having to find your own words. Moreover, some people lose confidence or become more isolated following a stroke, particularly if they are not able to work or to continue with hobbies they previously enjoyed. Communication issues like aphasia only add to this, as it can seem easier just to be alone. This is where choirs and other music groups can come into play and open life up again in a new way.
In raising awareness of stroke, then, it’s really important to be aware of the causes, yes, and treatments – but also of the great and growing need for stroke survivors to have opportunities to share music and song.