Stroke patients take part in music therapy study

Published: 20 September 2017 at 11:44

A person striking a tambourine

Anglia Ruskin academic leads first year-long UK hospital trial at Addenbrooke’s

Untitled PageThe first year-long UK hospital trial to assess whether music therapy can help people recover following a stroke has started in Cambridge. 

The trial, which is now under way at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, is being led by Dr Alexander Street of the Music for Health Research Centre at Anglia Ruskin University.

The study is looking at whether music can help improve the patients’ cognitive function, communication, motor function and mood.  

In collaboration with the auditing department at the hospital, data is being collected on the mood of patients before and after each music therapy session and questionnaires are being used with patients, family and hospital staff to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of a music therapy provision within the stroke rehabilitation team.

This new inpatient trial is funded by the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) and follows a successful pilot led by Dr Street, which was carried out in conjunction with Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust community stroke teams.

That study, the results from which have been published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation, involved 10 stroke patients and focused on their reduced function in one arm, with music therapy delivered in their homes over a six-week period.  It was the first biomedical music therapy randomised controlled trial ever to take place in the UK.

Weakness on one side, or hemiparesis, is the most commonly encountered sensorimotor impairment following a stroke and affects a patient’s ability to wash, dress, cook and eat. 

According to the British Heart Foundation, approximately 152,000 people are affected by stroke in the UK every year, causing more disability in adults than any other disease or condition.

The annual financial cost of stroke, including direct healthcare costs, productivity loss and informal care, has been estimated to be as much as £7billion each year.

Dr Street, a postdoctoral researcher in neurologic music therapy at Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“We believe that music interventions are likely to be beneficial for improving arm function following a stroke, with the strong rhythmic stimulus embedded in music helping to enhance motor performance.

“However, since music therapy is not part of standard care, it was important to test whether stroke patients would engage with playing musical instruments.  Our pilot study found that patients did engage and were very positive about the process. 

“Playing a musical instrument, in this case percussion instruments and electronic tablets, requires a high level of repetition of specific movements.  Participants were able to associate the movements with the precision and dexterity needed in normal day-to-day activities, such as dressing, washing and using cutlery, which possibly enhanced their focus. 

“Our pilot study showed that this music therapy was interactive and enjoyable, and patients clearly linked the movements to those required for independent living.  We hope our current trial, which involves stroke patients in an earlier stage of recovery and addresses attention and memory, speech, movement, and mood, is similarly successful.

“We are also now planning a larger home-based trial for arm rehabilitation following a stroke, in order that we can more thoroughly examine treatment effects.”


The open access article “Home-based neurologic music therapy for arm hemiparesis following stroke: results from a pilot, feasibility randomized controlled trial”, published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation, is available here.