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Music Can Help Restore Stroke Patients' Sight

Favorite melodies encourage brain healing, study suggests

WEDNESDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Music may have charms to help restore sight to those recovering from a stroke, a new study finds.

Stroke survivors can suffer impaired visual awareness called visual neglect. It's caused by stroke-related damage in brain areas that integrate vision, attention and action, the researchers said.

Patients with visual neglect lose awareness of objects in the opposite side of space compared to the site of the brain injury. For example, if the stroke is on the right side of the brain, patients lose awareness of visual information that's to their left. This occurs even though there's no damage to the brain area associated with sight, according to the study.

"Visual neglect can be a very distressing condition for stroke patients. It has a big effect on their day-to-day lives," lead author Dr. David Soto, of Imperial College London, said in a school news release. "For example, in extreme cases, patients with visual neglect may eat only the food on their right side of their plate, or shave only half of their face, thus failing to react to certain objects in the environment."

The study included three stroke survivors who'd lost awareness of half of their field of vision. They completed vision tasks in three settings: listening to their preferred music; listening to music they didn't like; and in silence.

All the patients were better able to identify colored shapes and red lights in their depleted side of vision when they listened to music they liked, compared with music they didn't like or silence.

According to the researchers, this suggests that positive emotions triggered by listening to pleasant music may result in more efficient signaling in the brain. In turn, this may improve the patient's awareness by giving the brain more resources to process stimuli.

The study was published March 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our results are very promising, although we would like to look at a much larger group of patients with visual neglect and with other neuropsychological impairments," Soto said. "Our findings suggest that we should think more carefully about the individual emotional factors in patients with visual neglect and in other neurological patients following a stroke," Soto said.

"Music appears to improve awareness because of its positive emotional effect on the patient, so similar beneficial effects may also be gained by making the patient happy in other ways. This is something we are keen to investigate further," he said.

More information

The National Stroke Association has more about the effects of stroke.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Imperial College London, news release, March 23, 2009

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