Behind the headlines: Can music save stroke victims' sight?

Patients whose vision has been impaired by a stroke may be able to improve it by listening to their favourite music, media reports have claimed.

Currently, it is estimated that 60 per cent of stroke sufferers go on to develop impaired visual awareness, a condition known as visual neglect.

This occurs when a stroke damages the brain areas responsible for the integration of vision, attention and action.

Favourite music improves vision

What is the research?
Findings are based on a study of just three stroke patients with visual neglect, who completed tasks while: listening to music that they liked, music they disliked, and in silence.

They all reported that they could identify coloured shapes and red lights in their impaired side of vision more accurately while listening to music that they enjoyed compared with music they disliked or silence.

They were asked to press a button when they could see a red light appear.

One patient identified the light in 65 per cent of cases while listening to enjoyable music, but could only recognise it in 15 per cent of cases listening to music they disliked or silence.

Functional MRI scans taken to examine brain activity revealed that listening to pleasant music activated the orbitofrontal cortex and the cingulate gyrus, brain areas that are linked to positive emotional responses to stimuli.

What do the researchers say?
Lead researcher Dr David Soto, from Imperial College London, said: 'Our results are very promising, although we would like to look at a much larger group of patients with visual neglect and with other neuro-psychological impairments.

'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.'

What do other researchers say?
Joanne Murphy, research liaison officer for The Stroke Association said: 'This is very interesting research that indicates that a positive emotional state can help a stroke survivor with an obstacle such as visual neglect.'

Informing patients

  • Stroke sufferers who listened to their favourite music showed improvements in vision.
  • Listening to music you enjoy appears to improve vision by activating areas in the brain associated with positive emotional responses.
  • Researchers call for larger studies to validate the findings.

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