This has been known as more than a mere metaphor for some time now. The psychological benefits of music are well known: from improving social connections and mental health outcomes, to measurable reductions in depression and anxiety.
However, there are very real physiological benefits of music that are perhaps not as widely known.
Stroke victims, and other patients suffering from brain damage, will often lose the ability to speak. Language functions are processed in the left hemisphere of the brain, and music in the right hemisphere, therefore a stroke victim who has lost the ability to speak could train their right brain to take on these functions.
Therapies aimed at regaining language in stroke victims were often arduous, but Finnish researchers may have found a way to significantly expedite the process through music. 60 stroke victims were measured for speed and success of cognitive recovery, with some undergoing standard therapy, and others undergoing therapy while listening to music.
Fascinatingly, patients who could no longer speak would find themselves able to hum along to music, often with little training. From there, it would only be a few steps to regaining speech.
Studies were also carried out into patients suffering from damage to the parietal cortex, a region for visual and spatial processing. This would often leave someone with only half their spatial awareness, evidenced by patients failing to perceive visual prompts on one side of a screen, or only eating from one half of a plate.
Therapy to correct this was found to be much more effective when patients listened to music. Perhaps less surprisingly, the effects were far better when they listened to music they actually liked. The pleasurable release of dopamine is thought to be a key factor.
Kenny Rogers may have some healing powers
In initial studies, patients favoured artists such as Frank Sinatra and the Flying Burrito Brothers Band. But the greatest cognitive benefits were found when listening to Kenny Rogers, inspiring the name The Kenny Rogers Effect.
Gurdesh, Consultant, Leyton UK