How Stroke Patients Can Use Music to Boost Recovery

We both know that music is a powerful force for healing.

Today, I want to share some exciting ways it’s being used to aid stroke victims in their recovery.

A recent study from the University of Helsinki in Finland explored how music helps heal the brain after a stroke, particularly the regions involving memory. And I have to say, the results are truly remarkable.

Music listening significantly benefits stroke victims

The team of researchers randomly assigned 60 study participants—all of whom were recent stroke victims—to one of three intervention groups:

  1. Patients listened to music of their choosing 
  2. Patients listened to audiobooks of their choosing 
  3. A control group without listening material

In addition, all the participants received standard stroke rehabilitation. 

The intervention period lasted two months. Researchers then followed up with the participants six months after their stroke. 

At the onset of the study, a majority of the stroke victims experienced difficulties with movement and cognitive processes, like attention and memory.

But after treatment, researchers found significant improvements in the health of the patients:

  • Three months following their stroke, verbal memory (word and story recall) improved by 60 percent in music listeners, by 18 percent in audiobook listeners, and by 29 percent in non-listeners when compared to the first week post-stroke. 
  • Attention and focus improved by 17 percent in music listeners. No improvement was observed in audiobook listeners and non-listeners. 
  • Patients in the music listening group reported less depression and confusion than the other groups.

These improvements mostly remained consistent six months post-stroke.

How music heals your brain

The Finnish researchers attribute this significant cognitive recovery directly to the effect of music listening. This helped the stroke patients in three ways:

  1. Music helped enhance alertness, attention, and mood in the part of the brain activated by feelings of pleasure, reward, arousal, motivation, and memory.
  2. Music directly stimulated recovery in damaged areas of the brain.
  3. Music aroused other general mechanisms related to the brain's neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to grow, repair, and renew itself. 

Interestingly, one of the study authors also noted that 63 percent of the music played contained lyrics, suggesting that a combination of lyrics and instrumentation helped play a crucial role in the music listening group’s recovery.

One of the main study authors, Teppo Särkämö, concluded: 

 "Other research has shown that during the first weeks and months after stroke, the patients typically spend about three-quarters of their time each day in non-therapeutic activities, mostly in their rooms, inactive and without interaction, even although this time-window is ideal for rehabilitative training from the point of view of brain plasticity. 

“Our research shows for the first time that listening to music during this crucial period can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood, and it has the advantage that it is cheap and easy to organize."

He also adds, “Rather than an alternative, music listening should be considered as an addition to other active forms of therapy, such as speech therapy or neuropsychological rehabilitation."

I couldn’t agree more.

🧐 Curious? Try This 12 Minute Sound Based Vagus Nerve Stimulation Tutorial Right Now For Free!

Protection from the ravages of stroke

Today’s take away is this: If someone you love suffers a stroke, introduce music into their treatment plan as soon as possible. It could make all the difference in how quickly their brain heals and recovers.

In the meantime, be proactive about your brain health.

Here are some ideas to strengthen and protect your brain.

  1. Exercise daily with music. Mixing physical activity with music not only provides a physical work out, but a cognitive one as well. This combination of sound and movement stimulates various regions of your brain.

    Studies have also shown that music can push you to exercise with a higher intensity for a longer duration.
  2. Regularly listen to music from your youth. The nostalgia associated with your favorite music (particularly from your teenage years and young adulthood) stimulates parts of your brain that process emotions and memory.

    And not only that, but reliving these precious memories elevates your mood by releasing your body’s “feel-good” chemicals, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
  3. Sing along to your favorite music. Singing stimulates your vagus nerve—triggering production of the anti-inflammatory chemical nitric oxide, as well as dopamine and pain-killing endorphins.
    So even if you can’t hold a tune in a bucket, sing your heart out. It’s good for you!
  4. There are many other types of sound and voice-based exercises that have the potential to both heal and protect your brain. In fact, my Sound Solution Audio Toolkit contains eight audio tracks and two videos that teach out how to do just that. Click here for more information or to get unlimited streaming access right now.

Above all else, remember to make taking impeccable care of yourself non-negotiable.

Be Well,

Jim Donovan, M.Ed.

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Särkämö, Teppo. (2018). Music in the Recovering Brain After Stroke. Helsinki University. Retrieved from:

University of Helsinki. (2008). Listening to music improves stroke patients’ recovery, study shows. Retrieved from:

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Copyright © 2021-2022 by Blue Beat Media. Thank you for your interest in Jim Donovan / Jim Donovan Music. We do not allow republication of our full newsletters and articles. However, you can post a portion (no more than 90 words, 1-2 paragraphs) of our content with a live link back to our homepage,, or a link to the specific article you are quoting from.

About the author:

Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker. His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance. He is also an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.

His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.

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