Singing ‘rewires’ damaged brain

Encouraging severe stroke victims to sing can help them regain the ability to talk, new research claims. The researchers have found that victims who have lost the ability to communicate due to severe brain damage can regain it by singing the words.

Researchers presented these findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego. An ongoing clinical trial, they said, has shown how the brain responds to this “melodic intonation therapy”. Images of the brains of patients with stroke lesions on the left side of the brain – which is typically used more for speech – show “functional and structural changes” on the right side of the brain after they have undergone this form of therapy through song. They believe that the melody can help the brain rewire itself so that it can bypass the damaged regions of the mind and so communicate. The therapy is already established as a medical technique.

Around 130,000 people suffer strokes in the UK every year of which 67,000 die. About 20 per cent of the survivors lose the ability to speak. The technique – officially known as Melodic Intonation Therapy – involves making patients sings words and phrases. It usually takes around 75 sessions of one and a half hours over 14 weeks before being effective. During this time they are taught to sing several hundred words and phrases. While every patient could repeat the learned phrases, two thirds of the patients could apply the skill to unlearned words and phrases.

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