Oral Communication

Cognitive, emotional, and neural benefits of musical leisure activities in stroke and dementia


a Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki

Introduction: The capacity of music to engage auditory, cognitive, motor, and emotional functions across cortical and subcortical brain regions and the relative preservation of music in ageing and dementia makes it a promising tool in the rehabilitation of ageing-related neurological illnesses, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. As the incidence and prevalence of these illnesses is increasing rapidly, it is important to develop music-based interventions that are enjoyable and effective in the everyday care of the patients.

Methods: In two single-blind RCTs, the cognitive, emotional, and neural efficacy of self- or caregiver-implemented musical leisure activities was studied in stroke patients (N = 60) and persons with dementia (PWDs, N = 89). In stroke patients, daily music listening was compared to audio book listening and standard rehabilitation. In PWDs, regular listening and singing of familiar songs were compared to standard care.

Results: Original results showed that music listening enhanced the recovery of memory, attention, and mood after stroke [1] and that both singing and music listening helped maintain better cognitive functioning and mood in PWDs [2]. Here, we will present recent results from voxel-based morphometry (VBM) analyses showing that the cognitive and emotional benefits of music listening after stroke are associated with structural neuroplasticity in a network of prefrontal and limbic regions [3]. We will also present new results on how different clinical and demographical factors influence the outcome of the music interventions in PWDs.

Discussion: Musical leisure activities can provide an effective and easily applicable to enhance cognitive and emotional well-being after stroke and in the early stage of dementia.

[1] Särkämö T, et al. Music listening enhances cognitive recovery and mood after middle cerebral artery stroke. Brain. 2008; 131: 866-876. [2] Särkämö T, et al. Cognitive, emotional and social benefits of regular musical activities in early dementia: randomized controlled study. Gerontologist 2014; 54:634-650. [3] Särkämö T, et al. Structural changes induced by daily music listening in the recovering brain after middle cerebral artery stroke: a voxel-based morphometry study. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014; 8: 245.

Keywords : music, listening, singing, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer, neuropsychology, emotion