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Stroke Rehabilitation and Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT)

Music and the Brain

Music Enabled Movement in Limbs Paralyzed by Strokes

The Hearing Before The Special Committee on Aging United States Senate August 1, 1991 contains testimonies from doctors and scientists about stroke survivors who were paralyzed in a leg and unable to move or walk, but could tap their foot when listening to music. Other stroke victims who were paralyzed in their arm could not move their arm, but were able to play the piano. In fact, doctors were able to use music to heal them so that the woman with the paralyzed leg was able to walk again and the man with the paralyzed arm, who was a musician, was able to go back to work.

There were also testimonies from the prominent neurologist, the late Dr. Oliver Sacks, that Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients who could not talk, burst out singing when listening to music.  Thus, came about the development of Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT), which primarily treats people suffering from neurological disorders, strokes, trauma and brain injuries from work, automobile and sports’ accidents, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and more.

Conventional Music Therapy

Conventional Music Therapy has made its way into many recreational and social activities for seniors in residential rehabilitation facilities. Music Therapy has been recognized for its non-pharmacological ability to evoke emotional feelings that can awaken lost memories, to help against depression, to prevent cognitive decline in seniors suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and to make for better communication between patients and their caregivers and families.

NMT uses Techniques Developed by Neuroscience

Neurologic music therapy, however, uses special NMT techniques developed by neuroscience that use music to speed up recovery and healing of brain-injured people  and help the neurologically disabled regain speech, motor abilities and cognitive function. Studies in neuroscience explored how music can involve the brain in order to make changes in other non-musical parts of the brain to treat various disorders. Neurologic music therapy uses music to retrain the brain to function in areas like cognitive function, speech and motor disabilities that have been damaged by strokes or other neurological traumas and disease. Neuroscience researchers discovered that music affects many different parts of the brain and thus could be used to restore neurological functioning in people crippled physically and mentally by strokes and other neurological diseases.

Singing, for instance, is mainly from the right side of the brain and can help with healing damaged areas on the left side of the brain in order to restore speech and language function. Researchers discovered that while speech and language is mainly a function of the left side of the brain, music has the ability to reach many different parts of the brain. They decided to try to discover how they could get a person to speak again who could only sing along with lyrics from songs, but not speak. In other words, learning words as lyrics in singing could help patients suffering from aphasia (inability to speak or comprehend language) to learn to speak again. In fact some of these neurologically damaged stroke survivors who regain the ability to speak, talk in a kind of sing-song way.

NMT Therapists

NMT therapists must be specially trained in all the techniques of neurologic music therapy and be able to work with both individuals and groups. Sometimes NMT therapists are part of a team that also includes physical, occupational and speech and language therapists.

Areas of Stroke Rehabilitation in NMT

The areas of stroke rehabilitation in NMT are described in detail in a journal article by Dr. Michael H. Thaut and Gerald C. McIntosh published in June, 2014.

Gait Rehabilitation

Research has shown that responding and listening to rhythm called rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) can make improvements in motor function that can enable the restoration of movement in patients with stroke, like improving gait.

Arm Rehabilitation

Two NMT techniques are aimed specifically for the arms.

Speech and Language Rehabilitation

Melodic Intonation Therapy” (MIT) is the process of using singing to treat patients suffering from aphasia. MIT is the most commonly utilized speech/language therapy technique used in stroke rehabilitation.

Cognitive Rehabilitation

Musical neglect training (MNT) addresses hemispatial neglect, which is a kind of brain damage where a person whose vision and eyes are normal, simply cannot see what is on the left side of their visual field. MNT utilizes exercises on musical instruments like drums that are organized in special rhythmic tempos to center attention on the neglected or unattended visual field. A second application technique in MNT is listening to music that can trigger  and awaken  the right hemisphere of the brain, while participating in special exercises that focus on visual neglect.


Neurologic Music Therapy can help stroke victims and other neurologically impaired people to regain motor, cognitive and speech and language skills. It should be considered to be a part of all stroke rehabilitation therapies.

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