Sunday, August 02, 2009

Music therapy for stroke victims

I would question the focus on classical music below. I am a J.S. Bach man myself but most people relate best to very simple music

Anyone who's ever heard Pavarotti blow the doors off a concert hall with the stunning conclusion of Puccini's Nessun Dorma knows that opera music has the ability to move the heart. (And in Pavarotti's case, move it to another zip code.) In a new study from (where else?) Italy, researchers examined the effects that different types of opera and classical music have on cardiovascular measures.

As reported by the BBC, when 24 healthy subjects were monitored while listening to a random selection of classical pieces, researchers noted clear physical changes. Fast tempo prompted increased blood pressure and faster breathing and heart rates. Slower tempo lowered blood pressure and brought down heart and breathing rates.

Their conclusion: Quiet, soothing music is actually NOT the best music for the heart. Music that modulates between slower and faster tempos, as well as lower and higher volumes (something like Nessun Dorma, for instance), has the most advantageous effects on heart rate and general circulation.

But here's where it gets interesting… Commenting on the Italian study, Diana Greenman (who heads up a UK charity that brings live music to hospitals and hospices) told the BBC: "I hear time and again of stroke patients who suddenly are able to move in time to the music after previously being paralyzed."

Now THAT'S pretty amazing! So I followed a link in the BBC piece to a 2008 article that detailed a remarkable study from the University of Helsinki.

Researchers recruited 60 stroke patients, and each began their participation as soon as possible after their stroke. Divided into three groups, some patients listened to whatever music they liked, some patients listened to audio books, and some patients had no specific listening plan. Meanwhile, all subjects received standard protocols for stroke rehabilitation.

After three months, testing showed that focused attention and mental operation abilities improved by 17 percent in the music group, but didn't improve at all in the other two groups. Verbal memory scores were even more impressive: Music group: 60 percent improvement. Audio books group: 18 percent. Non-listening group: 29 percent. Subjects in the music group also tended to be less confused and less depressed than subjects in the other two groups.

Lead researcher of the study told the BBC that in the weeks after a stroke, patients are typically inactive much of the time, providing a perfect music-listening opportunity.

At the end of the BBC article, several readers submitted comments that offer real-life confirmation of the study results. For one man, a motorcycle accident prompted brain bleeding followed by a stroke that left him unable to move one side of his body and unable to speak. But when the radio was on he could sing along with familiar songs.

A woman in India suffered a severe stroke that left her with a "major speech deficit" and limited vocabulary. But her daughter reports that she can recall and sing some of her favorite songs.

One stroke expert told the BBC that more research is needed before widespread use of music as therapy can be recommended for stroke victims. This caution is pretty laughable unless someone can produce any evidence at all of a single adverse side effect of music (with the possible exception of getting the Macarena song stuck in your brain for a full afternoon).


Arm-swinging riddle is answered

RESEARCHERS say they may have come up with an explanation as to why we swing our arms when we walk, a practice that has long piqued scientific curiosity. Swinging one's arms comes at a cost. We need muscles to do it, and we need to provide energy in the form of food for those muscles.

So what's the advantage? Little or none, some experts say, contending that arm-swinging, like our appendix, is an evolutionary relic from when we used to go about on all fours. But a trio of specialists from the United States and the Netherlands have put the question to rigorous tests.

They built a mechanical model to get an idea of the dynamics of arm-swinging and then recruited 10 volunteers, who were asked to walk with a normal swing, an opposite-to-normal swing, with their arms folded or held by their sides. The metabolic cost of this activity was derived from oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production as the human guinea pigs breathed in and out.

Arm-swinging turned out to be a plus, rather than a negative, the investigators found. For one thing, it is surprisingly harmless in energy costs, requiring little torque, or rotational twist, from the shoulder muscles. Holding one's arms as one walks requires 12 per cent more metabolic energy, compared with swinging them.

The arms' pendulum swing also helps dampen the bobbly up-and-down motion of walking, which is itself an energy drain for the muscles of the lower legs. If you hold your arms while walking, this movement, called vertical ground reaction moment, rises by 63 per cent.

Should you prefer to walk with an opposite-to-normal swing - meaning your right arm moves in sync with your right leg and your left arm is matched to the motion of your left leg - the energy cost of using your shoulder muscles will fall. The downside, though, is that opposite-to-normal swing forces up the metabolic rate by a quarter.

The study, headed by Steven Collins at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, says we should give the thumb's-up to arm swinging. "Rather than a facultative relic of the locomotion needs of our quadrupedal ancestors, arm swinging is an integral part of the energy economy of human gait," says the paper. It appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the biological research journal of the Royal Society, on Wednesday.


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