Music listening enhances cognitive recovery andmood
after middle cerebral artery stroke
Teppo Sa «rka «mo « ,1Mari Tervaniemi,1Sari Laitinen,2Anita Forsblom,2Seppo Soinila,3Mikko Mikkonen,1
Taina Autti,4Heli M. Silvennoinen,4Jaakko Erkkila « ,2Matti Laine,5Isabelle Peretz6and Marja Hietanen3
1Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology,University of Helsinki, and Helsinki Brain Research Centre,
Helsinki,2Department of Music,University of Jyva « skyla « , Jyva « skyla « ,3Department of Neurology and4Department of
Radiology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki,5Department of Psychology, —bo Akademi University,Turku,
Finland and6Department of Psychology,University of Montreal, Montreal,Canada
Correspondence to:Teppo Sa «rka « mo « , MA,Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, PO Box 9
(Siltavuorenpenger 20C), FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
We know from animal studies that a stimulating and enriched environment can enhance recovery after stroke,
but little is known about the effects of an enriched sound environment on recovery from neural damage in
humans. In humans, music listening activates a wide-spread bilateral network of brain regions related to atten-
tion, semantic processing, memory, motor functions, and emotional processing. Music exposure also enhances
emotional and cognitive functioning in healthy subjects and in various clinical patient groups.The potential role
of music in neurological rehabilitation, however, has not been systematically investigated. This single-blind,
randomized, and controlled trial was designed to determine whether everyday music listening can facilitate
the recovery of cognitive functions and mood after stroke. In the acute recovery phase, 60 patients with a left
or right hemisphere middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke were randomly assigned to a music group, a language
group, or a control group. During the following two months, the music and language groups listened daily to
self-selected music or audio books, respectively, while the control group received no listening material. In
addition, all patients received standard medical care and rehabilitation. All patients underwent an extensive
neuropsychological assessment, which included a wide range of cognitive tests as well as mood and quality of
life questionnaires, one week (baseline), 3 months, and 6 months after the stroke.Fifty-four patients completed
the study. Results showed that recovery in the domains of verbal memory and focused attention improved
significantly more in the music group than in the language andcontrolgroups.The music group also experienced
less depressed and confused mood than the control group.These findings demonstrate for the first time that
music listening during the early post-stroke stage can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood.
The neural mechanisms potentially underlying these effects are discussed.
Keywords: stroke; rehabilitation; music; cognition; emotions
Abbreviations: FLAIR=fluid-attenuated inversion recovery; MCA=middle cerebral artery; MRI=magnetic resonance
imaging; QOL=quality of life; RT=reaction time
Received September18, 2007 . Revised January 9 , 2008. Accepted January14, 2008. Advance Access publication February 20, 2008
During the first weeks and months of recovery after a stroke,
the brain can undergo dramatic plastic changes (Witte, 1998;
Kreisel et al., 2006) that can be further enhanced by
stimulation provided by the environment. Post-stroke
(Johansson, 2004; Nithianantharajah and Hannan, 2006),
virtual environments (You et al., 2005), and electrical cortical
and peripheral stimulation (Hummel and Cohen, 2005)
have all been shown to improve motor recovery. Interestingly,
multimodal stimulation, including auditory, visual and
olfactory stimuli, combined to the enriched motor environ-
ment enhanced motor and cognitive recovery more than the
enriched motor environment alone (Maegele et al., 2005).
Evidence from developmental animal studies also suggests
that an enriched sound environment can enhance auditory
cortical functions (Engineer et al., 2004) as well as learning
and memory (Chikahisa et al., 2006; Kim et al., 2006;
doi:10.1093/brain/awn013Brain (2008),131, 866^876
? 2008 The Author(s)
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/) which
permits unrestricted non-commercialuse, distribution, andreproductionin anymedium, provided the original work is properlycited.
Angelucci et al., 2007a). In humans, the effects of an enriched
sound environment on recovery from neural damage have,
however, not been systematically studied.
In the human brain, one of the most powerful sources of
auditory stimulation is provided by music (Sacks, 2006).
Listening to music is a complex process for the brain, since
it triggers a sequel of cognitive and emotional components
with distinct neural substrates (Peretz and Zatorre, 2005).
Recent brain imaging studies have shown that neural
activity associated with music listening extends well beyond
the auditory cortex involving a wide-spread bilateral
network of frontal, temporal, parietal and subcortical
areas related to attention, semantic and music-syntactic
processing, memory and motor functions (Bhattacharya
et al., 2001; Janata et al., 2002; Koelsch et al., 2004; Popescu
et al., 2004), as well as limbic and paralimbic regions
related to emotional processing (Blood et al., 1999; Blood
and Zatorre, 2001; Brown et al., 2004; Koelsch et al., 2006;
Menon and Levitin, 2005). Music has a well-documented
effect on alleviating anxiety, depression and pain in patients
with a somatic illness (Cassileth et al., 2003; Cepeda et al.,
2006; Siedliecki and Good, 2006). Recent cognitive and
neuropsychological studies suggest that it may also enhance
a variety of cognitive functions, such as attention, learning,
communication and memory, both in healthy subjects
(Wallace, 1994; Thompson et al., 2001; Thompson et al.,
2005; Schellenberg et al., 2007) and in clinical conditions,
such as dyslexia (Overy, 2003), autism (Gold et al., 2006),
schizophrenia (Talwar et al., 2006), multiple sclerosis
(Thaut et al., 2005), coronary artery disease (Emery et al.,
2003) and dementia (Brotons and Koger, 2000; Foster and
Valentine, 2001; Van de Winckel et al., 2004). In stroke
rehabilitation, elements of music have previously been used
as a part of physiotherapy (Thaut et al., 1997) and speech
therapy (Belin et al., 1996) to enhance the recovery of
motor and speech functions. In addition, nonverbal
auditory stimuli have been shown to temporarily ameliorate
left visual neglect after stroke (Hommel et al., 1990).
However, the knowledge about the long-term effects of
everyday music listening itself on the recovery of cognitive
and emotional functions after stroke is very limited.
The purpose of this single-blind, randomized and
controlled trial was to determine whether regular self-
directed music listening during the first months after
middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke can enhance the
recovery of cognitive functions and mood. Since the brain
areas involved in music processing are mainly supplied by
the MCA (Ayotte et al., 2000) we hypothesized that, in
addition to engaging cognitive and emotional networks,
music listening would also stimulate both the perilesional
and healthy brain areas that normally show increased
excitability and adaptability in this subacute recovery phase
(Kreisel et al., 2006), and thereby enhance and speed up the
spontaneous recovery process. As listening to real music,
especially if it contains lyrics, activates the brain bilaterally,
we also hypothesized that it would facilitate the recovery
from unilateral stroke more than listening to purely verbal
material, which activates primarily the left hemisphere
(Zatorre et al., 2002; Tervaniemi and Hugdahl, 2003). Thus,
we compared the effect of music listening both to the effect
of listening to audio books and to normal spontaneous
Subjects and procedure
Subjects (n=60) were stroke patients recruited between March
2004 and May 2006 from the Department of Neurology of the
Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCH) after been admitted
to the hospital for treatment of acute stroke. Following inclusion
criteria were used: (1) an acute ischaemic MCA stroke in the left
or right temporal, frontal, parietal or subcortical brain regions,
(2) no prior neurological or psychiatric disease, (3) no drug or
alcohol abuse, (4) no hearing deficit, (5) right-handed, (6) 475
years old, (7) Finnish-speaking and (8) able to co-operate. Eligible
patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a music
group, a language group or a control group (n=20 in each) as
performed with a random number generator by a researcher not
involved in the patient enrollment. The study was approved by the
HUCH Ethics Committee, and all patients signed an informed
consent. All patients received standard treatment for stroke in
terms of medical care and rehabilitation. All patients underwent a
clinical neuropsychological assessment and a magnetoencephalo-
graphic (MEG) measurement 1 week (baseline), 3 months and 6
months post-stroke, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
within 2 weeks of the stroke and 6 months post-stroke. The
results from the MEG part of the study will be presented in
Of the 60 subjects originally recruited in to the study,
55 completed the study up to the 3-month follow-up (music
group n=19, language group n=19 and control group n=17).
Of the five drop-outs, one was due to false diagnosis (transient
ischaemic attack), one due to a new stroke, one due to dementia
and two due to refusal. One further subject died from myocardial
infarction before the 6-month follow-up (music group n=18,
language group n=19 and control group n=17at the 6-month
After agreeing to participate in the study, all patients were
individually contacted by a music therapist (author S.L. or A.F.)
who interviewed them about their pre-stroke leisure activities and
hobbies, such as music listening and reading, and informed them
about the group allocation. The music therapists provided the
patients in the music group with portable CD players and CDs of
their own favourite music in any musical genre. Similarly, they
provided the patients in the language group with portable cassette
players and narrated audio books on cassette selected by the
patients from a collection of the Finnish Celia library for the
visually impaired (http://www.celialib.fi). The patients in both
groups were then trained in using the players and were instructed
to listen to the material by themselves daily (minimum 1h per
day) for the following 2 months while still in the hospital or at
home. The patients were also asked to keep a listening diary.
During the 2-month period, the music therapists kept close weekly
Music listening enhances stroke recoveryBrain (2008),131, 866^876867
contact with the patients to encourage listening, to provide
more material, and to give practical aid in using the equipment,
if needed. Also nursing staff of the hospital wards and relatives of
the patients were informed about the study, and were asked to
help the patients in using the equipment, if needed. The protocol
in the music and language groups was therefore identical with the
only difference being the type of listening material used. The
control group was not given any listening material. All patients
were interviewed about their leisure activities again after the
2-month intervention and at the 6-month follow-up.
In order to test for differences between the emotional responses
and preferences to music and verbal material, a short behavioural
listening experiment was also performed by the music therapists at
the acute stage, before the intervention. In this experiment, two
short musical pieces and narrated poems, which were either happy
or sad (as judged by the therapists), were first presented to the
patients. Thereafter they were interviewed about the emotions,
thoughts and memories evoked by those. From these qualitative
data, we scored individually for each patient whether the stimulus
(happy or sad) evoked any emotions, and which stimulus type
(music or poems) was preferred.
Structural brain imaging
MRI was performed within 2 weeks of stroke onset and 6 months
post-stroke using the 1.5T Siemens Vision scanner of the HUCH
Department of Radiology. The first MRI was used to verify the
stroke diagnosis and the second to evaluate the size and location
of the lesion without the interfering effect of the acute stage
oedema. Size was evaluated from fluid-attenuated inversion
recovery (FLAIR) images by measuring the maximum diameter
of the lesion, or in case of multiple lesions the sum of the
diameters, in the sagittal, coronal or horizontal plane. Following
subcategories were used in classifying the location(s) of the
lesion(s) within the damaged hemisphere: frontal lobe, temporal
lobe, parietal lobe, insula and subcortical structures or white
Clinical neuropsychological assessment was performed on all
patients at the baseline (1 week from stroke onset), and repeated
again 3 months and 6 months post-stroke. The researchers
involved in these studies (authors T.S. and M.M.) were blinded to
the group allocation of the patients. An extensive neuropsycho-
logical test battery was used to evaluate the following cognitive
domains: verbal memory, short-term and working memory,
functions, focused attention and sustained attention. Summary
scores of the tests measuring each cognitive domain were used in
the statistical analyses. Parallel test versions of the memory tests
were used in different testing occasions to minimize practice
effects. Reaction time (RT) tests were always performed using the
better, non-paretic hand. All assessments were carried out in a
quiet room reserved for neuropsychological studies. The baseline
assessment was carried out in two or three testing sessions to
avoid interference due to fatigue.
Verbal memory was evaluated with the story recall subtest from
the Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test (RBMT; Wilson et al.,
1985) and an auditory list-learning task. In the story recall, both
immediate and delayed recall scores were used. In the list-learning
task, a 10-word list was presented orally three times, and after
each presentation the subjects were requested to recall as many
words as they could. Total score of the three trials and delayed
recall score were used. Short-term and working memory was
assessed with the digit span subtest from the Wechsler Memory
Scale—Revised (WMS-R; Wechsler, 1987) and a memory inter-
ference task, in which the subjects were first orally presented with
three words, then asked to perform a short mental arithmetic or
verbal task, and then asked to recall the words again. Language
was evaluated with the word and sentence repetition and reading
subtests from the Finnish version (Laine et al., 1997) of the Boston
Diagnostic Aphasia Examination (BDAE; Goodglass and Kaplan,
1983), the verbal fluency and naming subtests from the CERAD
battery (Morris et al., 1989), and a shortened version of the Token
Test (De Renzi and Faglioni, 1978). Visuospatial cognition was
assessed with a clock task (Lezak et al., 2004), in which both
setting clock hands and recognition of time was evaluated;
a copying task (Lezak et al., 2004), in which copying of four
geometric drawings (triangle, flag, cube, cross) was evaluated;
a shortened version of the Benton Visual Retention Test (BVRT;
Benton, 1974); and subtest B from the Balloons Test (Edgeworth
et al., 1998). Music cognition was evaluated with the scale and
rhythm subtests from the shortened version of the Montreal
Battery of Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA; Peretz et al., 2003),
which was administered at baseline and 3 months post-stroke.
Executive functions were assessed with the Frontal Assessment
Battery (FAB; Dubois et al., 2000). Attention was evaluated with
the CogniSpeed?reaction time software (Revonsuo and Portin,
1995), which has previously been used, for example, in studies of
multiple sclerosis (Kujala et al., 1994) and brain tumors (Lilja
et al., 2001). Focused attention, the executive ability to control and
perform mental operations and resolve conflicts among responses
(Raz and Buhle, 2006), was assessed with summed correct
responses and summed RTs of the mental subtraction and
Stroop subtests. Sustained attention, the ability to achieve and
maintain an alert state (Raz and Buhle, 2006), was evaluated with
the percentage of correct responses in the vigilance subtest and
summed RTs in the vigilance and simple reaction time subtests.
In addition to cognitive functions, also mood was evaluated at
baseline and 3 and 6 months post-stroke using the shortened
Finnish version (Ha ¨nninen, 1989) of the Profile of Mood States
(POMS; McNair et al., 1981). It contains 38 items that form
following eight subscales: tension, depression, irritability, vigor,
fatigue, inertia, confusion and forgetfulness. Also quality of life
(QOL) was assessed 3 and 6 months post-stroke with both a self-
reported and a proxy-reported Stroke and Aphasia Quality Of Life
Scale-39 (SAQOL-39; Hilari et al., 2003) questionnaire.
Group differences in the baseline characteristics of the patients
and in the amount of rehabilitation received during the follow-up
were analysed with one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA),
Kruskal–Wallis tests, t-tests and chi-square tests. Group differences
in mood and QOL 3 and 6 months post-stroke were analysed with
one-way ANOVAs. Recovery in the cognitive domains and mood
was analysed using a mixed-model ANOVA with a within-subjects
factor of time (baseline, 3-month stage and 6-month stage) and
between-subjects factors of group (music, language and control)
and lesion laterality (left and right). The Greenhouse–Geisser
epsilon was used to correct for sphericity. Main effects of time and
group as well as time?group and time?group?lesion laterality
868Brain (2008),131, 866^876T . Sa «rka « mo « et al.
interactions are reported. All post hoc analyses were performed
with Tukey’s honestly significant difference test. For the mixed-
model ANOVA, post hoc tests were performed on change scores
from the baseline to the 3-month stage and from the baseline to
the 6-month stage. Relationships between the cognitive domains
were also analysed with Pearson’s correlation coefficients. The
level of statistical significance was set at P50.05. All statistical
analyses were performed using SPSS (version 14.0). Missing values
in test scores were considered missing at random.
There were no statistically significant differences between
the groups in the baseline demographic or clinical variables
or in relevant leisure activities prior to stroke (Table 1).
There were also no significant group differences in the
baseline cognitive performance or mood (Table 2). The
groups did not differ significantly in the antidepressant
medication received at the acute stage or in rehabilitation
received in public health care during the follow-up period
(Tables 1 and 3). In the short pre-intervention listening
experiment, emotions were evoked in the majority of both
music and language group patients after both music
listening (63% versus 81%; ?2(Yates’ correction)=0.3,
P=0.567) and poem listening (72% versus 94%; ?2
(Yates’ correction)=1.4, P=0.233), and the proportion of
patients who preferred music was highly similar in both
groups (50% versus 56%; ?2=0.1, P=0.716). Thus, the
emotional response to and preference for music and verbal
material were comparable at baseline.
between the groups in the frequency of listening to music
and audio books both at the 3-month and at the 6-month
post-stroke stage (Table 3): the music group listened to
music more than the language group or the control group,
whereas the language group listened to audio books more
than the music group or the control group (P50.005 in
all pair-wise comparisons). This indicates that the study
protocol worked well. One might expect that the patients
with damage to the language-dominant hemisphere would
have more difficulties in listening to audio books than
music, and would thus spend less time listening to them.
However, a further group comparison within the left
hemisphere-lesioned patients showed that the amount of
daily listening (hours per day) in the music group (M=1.6,
SD=0.7) and in the language group (M=1.3, SD=0.5) did
not differ significantly [t(13)=0.68, P=0.511]. Analysis of
the listening diaries kept by the music group patients
showed that 62% of all music selections were popular music
(pop, rock or rhythm and blues), 10% was jazz, 8% was
folk music and 20% was classical or spiritual music. All in
all, 63% of the music contained lyrics in a language that the
patients could understand (mostly Finnish or English).
Figure 1 illustrates the recovery in the 10 cognitive domains
in all three patient groups. In a mixed-model ANOVA, the
within-subjects main effect of time was significant in the
domains of verbal memory [F(2, 96)=56.5, P50.001],
short-term and working memory [F(2, 90)=8.7, P50.001],
T able1 Baseline demographic and clinical characteristics of the three patient groups
VariableMusic group (n=19)Language group (n=19)Control group (n=17)P-value
Living alone (yes/no)
Music listening prior to strokea
Radio listening prior to strokea
Reading prior to strokea
Time from stroke to baseline (days)
Time from stroke to treatment (days)
Motor deficit severityb
Lesion laterality (left/right)
Lesion in frontal lobe (yes/no)
Lesion in temporal lobe (yes/no)
Lesion in parietal lobe (yes/no)
Lesion in insula (yes/no)
Lesion in subcortical or WM areas (yes/no)
7 .4 (2.8)
7 .1 (3.9)
0.1 15 (K)
Data are mean (SD) unless otherwise stated.WM=white matter; F=one-way ANOVA; ?2=chi-square test; K=Kruskal^Wallis test.
aNumbers denote values on a Likert scale with a range 0 (does never) to 5 (does daily).bNumbers denote values on a Likert scale with
a range 0 (no deficit) to 3 (hemiplegia).cBDAE Aphasia Severity Rating Scale: scores 0^4=aphasia, score 5=no aphasia.For aphasic
patients, the mean score (range 0^4) is shown.dCut-off from the Lateralized Inattention Index of the BalloonsTest.eAntidepressant
medication (citalopram or mirtazapin) used in the acute post-stroke phase.fMaximum lesion diameter in cm (see Methods for details).
Music listening enhances stroke recovery Brain (2008),131, 866^876 869
cognition [F(1.4, 58.5)=18.6, P50.001], focused attention
(correct responses) [F(1.6, 59.3)=3.5, P=0.045], focused
attention (RT) [F(1.2, 45.7)=15.7, P50.001], sustained
attention (correct responses) [F(1.3, 57.3)=8.8, P=0.002],
sustained attention (RT) [F(1.2, 51.4)=8.5, P=0.003], music
cognition [F(1, 47)=20.6, P50.001] and executive functions
[F(1.8, 82.8)=30.6, P50.001]. The between-subjects main
effect of group was not significant in any cognitive domain.
The time?group interaction was, however, significant in
the domains of verbal memory [F(4, 96)=4.7, P=0.002] and
focused attention (correct responses) [F(3.2, 59.3)=3.9,
P=0.012]. Post hoc tests of the change scores showed that
at the 3-month stage verbal memory recovery was signifi-
cantly better in the music group than in the control group
(P=0.049) or in the language group (P=0.006). Focused
attention recovery was significantly better in the music group
than in the control group (P=0.049) and also marginally
better in the music group than in the language group
(P=0.058). At the 6-month stage, verbal memory recovery
was significantly better in the music group than in the
language group (P=0.006), and focused attention recovery
was significantly better in the music group than in the control
group (P=0.008) or in the language group (P=0.016).
A further analysis also showed that, across all patients, the
correlation between the focused attention (correct responses)
score and the verbal memory score was significant at baseline
(r=0.32, P=0.037) and at the 3-month (r=0.54, P50.001)
and 6-month (r=0.49, P50.001) stages.
In addition, the time?group?lesion laterality interac-
tion was significant in focused attention (correct responses)
ANOVAs for the left hemisphere-lesioned patients and
the right hemisphere-lesioned patients showed that the
time?group interaction was significant only in the left
hemisphere-lesioned patients [F(3.0, 25.7)=4.5, P=0.011].
Post hoc tests of the change scores showed that in the left
T able 2 Baseline cognitive performance and mood in the three patient groups
Music group (n=19)Language group (n=19) Control group (n=17)P-value
Verbal memory (max.124)
Short-term and working memory (max. 42)
Music cognition (max. 28)
Visuospatial cognition (max.105)
Executive functions (max.18)
Focused attention (correct responses) (max. 90)
Focused attention (RT, s)
Sustained attention (correct responses) (max.100)
Sustained attention (RT, s)
Profile of Mood States (POMS) subscale
Depression (max. 28)
Irritability (max. 28)
Vigor (max. 24)
Confusion (max. 20)
87 .0 (23.0)
23.3 (7 .2)
17 .7 (9.5)
17 .1 (3.5)
77 .3 (23.7)
87 .3 (3.2)
95.9 (7 .4)
7 .0 (7 .3)
7 .1 (4.0)
7 .4 (4.5)
8.5 (7 .4)
Data are mean (SD).RT=reaction time; F=one-way ANOVA; K=Kruskal^Wallis test.
aSummary scores of the neuropsychological tests measuring each cognitive domain.
T able 3 Music and audio book listening and other
rehabilitation in the three patient groups at the three
month and the six month post-stroke stage
Variable Music group
Audio book listeninga
3m6.1 (7 .4)
6m 8.3 (14.0)
6m4.3 (7 .8)
1 1.7 (21.1)
1 1.6 (19.5)
7 .1 (14.3)
3.2 (7 .7)
5.2 (7 .6)
Data are mean (SD). 3m=3 month post-stroke stage; 6m=6
month post-stroke stage; K=Kruskal^Wallis test.
aNumbers denote values on a Likert scale with a range 0
(does never) to 5 (does daily).bNumber of therapy sessions.
870Brain (2008),131, 866^876T . Sa «rka « mo « et al.
hemisphere-lesioned patients focused attention recovery
was significantly better in the music group than in the
language group (P=0.019), and also marginally better in
the music group than in the control group (P=0.092) at
the 3-month stage. At the 6-month stage, recovery was
significantly better in the music group than in the language
group (P=0.036) or in the control group (P=0.041).
Figure 2 illustrates the 3- and 6-month post-stroke
POMS scores in the three patient groups. No significant
time?group or time?group?lesion laterality interac-
tions were observed in a mixed-model ANOVA (P=0.378–
0.859 in all subscales), indicating, thus, that the interven-
tion did not induce systematic changes on mood from the
baseline to the 3- and 6-month stages. However, the
emotional reactions of the patients are typically highly
variable in the acute post-stroke stage, encompassing
reactions, lack of adaptation, disinhibition, anosognosia
and aggressiveness (Bogousslavsky, 2003). Consequently, the
emotional status of the patients can change rapidly during
the first days and weeks after the stroke. Thus, the changes
that take place between the acute and the 3-month post-
stroke stage vary considerably between patients, and more
stable effects on mood, such as post-stroke depression,
appear usually later, only about 3–4 months after the stroke
(Carota et al., 2002). Therefore, directly comparing mood
assessed with POMS at the acute and at the 3- and 6-month
stages may not be reliable due to the emotional lability of
the patients at the acute stage. For this reason, we also
from the 3- and 6-month post-stroke POMS scores. At
the 3-month stage, there were significant group differences
in the depression [F(2, 51)=3.7, P=0.031] and confusion
[F(2, 51)=3.3, P=0.045] scores. Post hoc tests indicated
change score (s)
change score (s)
COGNITIVE RECOVERY AFTER STROKE
Fig.1 Changes in the10 cognitive domains (mean ? SEM) from the baseline (BL; 1-week post-stroke stage) to the 3-month (3m) and
the 6-month (6m) post-stroke stage (baseline score subtracted from the values) in the three patient groups.??P50.01,?P50.05 by
Music listening enhances stroke recoveryBrain (2008),131, 866^876871
that the depression score was significantly lower in the
music group than in the control group (P=0.024). Also the
confusion score was marginally lower in the music group
than in the control group (P=0.061). At the 6-month stage,
P=0.086] and confusion [F(2, 50)=2.9, P=0.064] were
still marginally significant with post hoc tests showing a
tendency for the music group to experience less depressed
(P=0.071) and confused (P=0.064) mood than the control
group. There were no significant group differences in self-
rated or proxy-rated QOL at the 3-month stage or at the
6-month stage (P=0.094–0.987 in all domains).
The novel main finding of this study was that regular self-
directed music listening during the early post-stroke stage
can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood.
Specifically, after the 2-month intervention period, patients
who listened to their favourite music 1–2h a day showed
greater improvement in focused attention and verbal
memory than patients who listened to audio books or
received no listening material. Moreover, patients who
listened to music also experienced less depressed and, to a
lesser extent, confused mood after the intervention than
patients who received no listening material. Since the
patient groups did not differ in demographic and clinical
variables at the baseline or in antidepressant medication
and rehabilitation received during the intervention, and
since any non-specific effects of therapeutic attention were
controlled for, these differences observed in cognitive
recovery can be directly attributed to the effect of listening
to music. Furthermore, the fact that most of the music also
contained lyrics, would suggest that it is the musical
component (or the combination of music and voice) that
plays a crucial role in the observed recovery of these
By its very nature, music has strong connections to both
attention and memory systems. Brain imaging studies have
shown that listening to real polyphonic music calls for rule-
based analysis and combination of sound patterns from
multiple auditory streams, which naturally recruits bilateral
temporal, frontal and parietal neural circuits underlying
multiple forms of attention, working memory, semantic
and syntactic processing, and imagery (Janata et al., 2002;
Peretz and Zatorre,2005). Recent evidence
that listening to music that is enjoyable but unrelated to
the cognitive task may even temporarily improve perfor-
mance in tests of spatial-temporal abilities (Thompson
et al., 2001), attention (Schellenberg et al., 2007), verbal
(Schellenberg et al., 2007) in healthy subjects. Moreover,
Music groupLanguage groupControl group
MOOD AFTER STROKE
Fig. 2 Profile of Mood States (POMS) scale scores (mean ? SEM) in the three patientgroups at the 3-month (3m) and the 6-month (6m)
post-stroke stage.?P50.05,#P50.1by one-way ANOVA.
872Brain (2008),131, 866^876 T . Sa «rka « mo « et al.
auditory stimulation with music has also temporarily
improved performance in tests of autobiographical recall
in dementia patients (Foster and Valentine, 2001) and in
tests of visual neglect in stroke patients (Hommel et al.,
1990). Furthermore, in healthy subjects (Wallace, 1994) and
in multiple sclerosis patients (Thaut et al., 2005) verbal
material presented in a musical modality (as song lyrics) is
learned and retrieved more efficiently than one presented
verbally. It can also increase the coherence of frontal EEG
oscillations during learning more than verbally presented
material (Thaut et al., 2005; Peterson and Thaut, 2007).
Moreover, aphasic patients repeat and recall more words
from novel songs when singing than speaking along an
controlled trials have also shown that active music therapy
or music-based exercise improves general cognition and
verbal fluency in dementia patients (Van de Winckel et al.,
2004), symptom scores in schizophrenia patients (Talwar
et al., 2006), and communication skills in autistic children
(Gold et al., 2006). Similar studies that have used a within-
subject design have also shown that music improves
(Overy, 2003), speech content and fluency in dementia
patients (Brotons and Koger, 2000), and verbal fluency in
Collectively, these findings provide evidence that music
engages and facilitates a wide range of cognitive functions.
Music is also closely linked to emotions and arousal.
Evidence suggests that music listening modulates emotional
arousal as indexed by changes in electrodermal, cardiovas-
cular and respiratory activity (Khalfa et al., 2002; Bernardi
et al., 2006; Gomez and Danuser, 2007). Listening to
pleasant and relaxing music also enhances the recovery of
cardiovascular and respiratory functions and decreases
cortisol levels after stress (Khalfa et al., 2003; Leardi
et al., 2007; Sokhadze, 2007). Music therapy has been
shown to reduce anxiety and depression in patients with a
somatic illness (Cassileth et al., 2003; Siedliecki and Good,
2006) and anecdotally also in neurological patients (Magee
and Davidson, 2002). These findings suggest that music has
an analgesic effect in reducing anxiety and directing
attention away from the negative experience, thus helping
to cope with emotional stress.
In summary, music listening can facilitate a wide variety
of cognitive and emotional functions. Whether these effects
are truly specific to music, are selective to a few cognitive
functions, and are long-lasting is, however, not known due
to methodological limitations of most prior studies. Here,
we used a single-blind, randomized, longitudinal experi-
mental design with two control groups and extensive
neuropsychological outcome measures to evaluate a wide
range of cognitive functions. Our results indicate that
music, when applied during the most dynamic period of
recovery from neural damage, can induce long-term
changes on cognition that is indexed by enhanced recovery
of focused attention and verbal memory. Interestingly, the
(Emeryet al., 2003).
facilitating effect of music on focused attention was more
pronounced in patients with damage to the language-
dominant hemisphere. This most likely reflects the strong
verbal component (mental arithmetic and color-word
processing) in the tasks we used to evaluate focused
attention. Moreover, music listening was associated with
less depressed and confused mood, suggesting that music may
help to cope with the emotional stress brought about
by sudden and severe neurological illness. Here, the possible
effect of non-specific therapeutic attention can not, how-
ever, be entirely ruled out, since the difference in mood
between the music group and the language group was not
An important and difficult question still pertains to the
neural mechanisms that can account for the beneficial effect
of music on cognition. Most previous studies have
attributed the effect to a general positive affective state or
enhanced arousal and attention, which, given the wide
variability of reported benefits, seems a plausible mecha-
nism. The focused attention and verbal memory scores in
our study were also significantly correlated, suggesting that
the effect is mostly related to enhanced attention. Thus,
current evidence suggests that music has a rather general,
non-specific effect on cognition. This is in line with the
arousal and mood hypothesis (Thompson et al., 2001), which
states that any enjoyable stimuli, such as music, that
induces positive affect and heightened arousal can lead to
improved performance on cognitive tasks. Recent animal
studies and functional neuroimaging studies in humans
have shed some light on the neural mechanisms that
mediate these effects. Listening to pleasant music activates
an interconnected network of subcortical and cortical brain
regions, which includes the ventral striatum, nucleus
hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area (VTA), anterior
cingulate, orbitofrontal cortex and ventral medial prefrontal
cortex (Blood and Zatorre, 2001; Brown et al., 2004; Menon
and Levitin, 2005; Koelsch et al., 2006). VTA produces
dopamine and has direct projections to the locus ceruleus
(LC), amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate and
prefrontal cortex (Ashby et al., 1999). The VTA-NAc
responses are suggested to be related to suppression of
aversive stimuli and pain (Menon and Levitin, 2005), which
would account for the effect of music on coping with stress,
whereas LC and hypothalamus mediate arousal. Together,
this dopaminergic mesocorticolimbic system is crucial for
mediating arousal, emotion, reward, motivation, memory,
attention and executive functioning (Ashby et al., 1999).
In animals, music listening leads to increased dopamine
synthesis in the brain (Panksepp and Bernatzky, 2002;
Sutoo and Akiama, 2004). Increased dopamine directly
attention, and memory in healthy humans (Schu ¨ck et al.,
2002) and also global cognitive functioning in patients
with cognitive impairment (Nagaraja and Jayashree, 2001).
It is, thus, possible that the music-related enhanced
Music listening enhances stroke recoveryBrain (2008),131, 866^876 873
cognitive recovery seen in our study was mediated by
positive mood induced by music, and hence the dopami-
nergic mesocorticolimbic system, especially since the music
the patients listened to was their own favourite music and
concurrent effects on mood were also observed.
A related topic concerns the pleasurability of listening to
music and stories. When comparing the effects of music
and narrated story listening on healthy subjects, Nantais
and Schellenberg (1999) found that listeners performed
better on a cognitive task following the listening condition
they preferred. In our study, the music and language groups
liked music and story listening to the same degree before
the intervention, the material used in both groups was self-
selected, and the groups listened to it equally often. This
suggests that preference to the type of material did not play
a significant role. In general, also anecdotal evidence from
the patients’ reports indicated that both music and
language groups enjoyed the intervention, although music
listening was experienced as easier and less demanding,
especially in the early recovery phase. Moreover, it is
possible that some aphasic patients in the language group
had difficulties in listening to the audio books due to
comprehension deficits, and, thus, did not find the
intervention as enjoyable as patients in the music group.
In addition to the effect on cognition and mood, music
may also have general effects on brain plasticity after stroke.
Since our patients had a unilateral MCA stroke, and the
brain regions involved in music processing are mainly
supplied by the MCA bilaterally (Ayotte et al., 2000),
listening to music may well have further stimulated both
the peri-infarct regions in the damaged hemisphere as well
as regions in the contralesional, healthy hemisphere that
normally show increased plasticity at this recovery stage
(Witte, 1998; Kreisel et al., 2006). The fact that listening to
music, especially with lyrics, is associated with activity of a
more widely and bilaterally distributed neural network than
listening to verbal material alone (Callan et al., 2006),
would also account for the observed superiority of music
stimulation over purely verbal stimulation, especially in left
Animal studies have shown that an enriched post-stroke
recovery environment can induce many structural plastic
changes in the recovering brain such as decreased infarct
volume and increased dendritic branching, spine density,
neurotrophic factors, cell proliferation and neurogenesis
(Johansson, 2004; Nithianantharajah and Hannan, 2006).
Although the effect of an enriched sound environment on
recovery from neural damage has not been directly studied,
recent developmental animal studies have shown that
exposure to music during development improves auditory
cortical functions, learning, and memory (Engineer et al.,
2004; Chikahisa et al., 2006; Kim et al., 2006; Angelucci et
al., 2007a). Importantly, exposure to music also enhances
brain plasticity by increasing neurogenesis in the hippo-
campus (Kim et al., 2006), modifying the expression of
glutamate reseptor GluR2 in the auditory cortex and in the
(De ´monet et al.,2005).
anterior cingulate (Xu et al., 2007), increasing brain-derived
neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in the hippocampus
(Angeluccietal., 2007a) and in
(Angelucci et al., 2007b), and also increasing the levels of
tyrosine kinase receptor B (TrkB), a BDNF receptor, in the
cortex (Chikahisa et al., 2006). Changes in glutamate
transmission in the peri-infarct area (Centonze et al., 2007)
and increased BDNF levels (Scha ¨bitz et al., 2007) are also
crucial plasticity mechanisms that contribute to recovery
from stroke. Thus, it is possible that the music-related
enhanced cognitive recovery seen in our study was also due
to structural plastic changes induced by music stimulation
in the recovering brain. At present, this suggestion is,
however, tentative, and further research is clearly needed to
elucidate the potential effects of a musically enriched
recovery environment on brain plasticity after stroke.
In conclusion, the results of the present study demon-
strate, to our knowledge for the first time, that regular self-
directed music listening during the 2-month subacute phase
of MCA stroke recovery enhanced the recovery of verbal
memoryand focused attention,
depressed and confused mood. According to a recent
study conducted in European stroke rehabilitation centers
(De Wit et al., 2005), stroke patients typically spend472%
of their daily time in non-therapeutic activities, mostly in
their rooms, inactive and without any interaction, even
though from a plasticity standpoint this time-window is
ideal for rehabilitative training (Witte, 1998; Kreisel et al.,
2006). We suggest that everyday music listening during
early stroke recovery offers a valuable addition to the
patients’ care, especially if other active forms of rehabilita-
tion are not yet feasible at this stage, by providing an
means to facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery.
We wish to express our gratitude to the staffs of the HUCH
Department of Neurology and other rehabilitation hospitals
in the Helsinki metropolitan area for their generous
collaboration, and especially to the patient subjects and
their families for their participation and effort. This work
was supported by Academy of Finland (project no 77322),
Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation (Helsinki, Finland),
National Graduate School of Psychology and Neurology
Foundation (Helsinki, Finland). Funding to pay the Open
Access publication charges for this article was provided by
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