Alert
Close

Top the Treasure Hunt leaderboard by 5 p.m. Friday to win a $100 gift card! Learn more

HIGHLIGHTS

Open
AARP Games Tournament

REAL POSSIBILITIES

AARP Real Possibilities
Car buying made easy with the AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App

AARP-iPad-ePub-app

DRIVER SAFETY

Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

KEEP BRAIN ACTIVE!

AARP Games - Play Now!

AARP BOOKS

Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.

Webinars

Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

 

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular

Viewed

share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

Singing Helps Stroke Patients Communicate

The key to communication for some speech-impaired stroke patients may be learning to sing their words and phrases.

The technique—called melodic intonation therapy—was devised more than three decades ago, but a recent study to evaluate the therapy found that it produced dramatic improvements in 12 patients with aphasia, a deficit in language that results from a stroke on the left side of the brain. This language deficit affects about 20 percent of all stroke survivors. Patients undergoing the therapy learn to sing useful phrases such as “I am hungry” while tapping a rhythm with their left hands.

In the new study, presented at a medical conference in late February, patients who received this training in daily 90-minute sessions for 15 weeks improved and maintained their verbal abilities for up to a month after the therapy ended, says Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who headed the study. He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Each of the patients had suffered a serious stroke that left them unable to speak coherently, he tells Bulletin Today, “and all had tried other therapies—and nothing worked.” He plans a larger study of the therapy, which he says could benefit some 70,000 stroke patients a year who suffer from this kind of speech problem.

Why the singing therapy appears to work in stroke patients is unknown. But one theory is that the method works because the left side of the brain is engaged with speech and the right side with music.

“If you get a stroke in the left hemisphere, according to this hypothesis, you become aphasic and can’t produce words because the left hemisphere, although damaged, retains dominance for producing language,” says Martin L. Albert, M.D., professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine. Often the stroke patients know exactly what they want to say but can’t find the words. It’s as if they’re trying to express themselves in a foreign language they don’t know.

Learning to sing the words essentially “shifts the dominance” to the right side of the brain—the “singing” side of the brain—so language can be released, Albert explains. Albert was not involved in Schlaug’s study, but he devised the therapy in the 1970s after he and other clinicians observed that some stroke patients who were no longer able to talk could still sing.

Since Albert’s discovery, there have been individual case studies of the therapy, but few larger studies, Schlaug says.

Tapping with the left hand not only helps the patients to keep rhythm, it also improves right-brain hearing and motor systems, and helps control facial movements, he adds.

Sid Kirchheimer covers consumer and health issues for the AARP Bulletin.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Woman trying on glasses in optometrists shop

Members save up to 60% off eye exams and 30% off eyeglasses at Pearle Vision.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

AARP/Walgreens Wellness Bus Stops in Clarksdale, MS

Members can get exclusive points offers from Walgreens and Duane Reade.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.