Listening to music could help restore vision in stroke patients
Patients who have lost part of their visual awareness following a stroke can show an improved ability to see when they are listening to music they like, according to a new study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Every year, an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. Up to 60% of stroke patients have impaired visual awareness of the outside world as a result, where they have trouble interacting with certain objects in the visual world.
This impaired visual awareness, known as "visual neglect", is due to the damage that a stroke causes in brain areas that are critical for the integration of vision, attention and action. Visual neglect causes the patient to lose awareness of objects in the opposite side of space compared to the site of their brain injury.
If the stroke occurs in the right hemisphere of the brain, these patients tend to lose awareness of visual information in the left side of space. This occurs even though the area of the brain associated with sight is not damaged.
The researchers behind the study, from Imperial College London, the University of Birmingham and other institutions, suggest that listening to their favourite music may help stroke patients with impaired visual awareness to regain their ability to see.
The researchers believe that the improvement in visual awareness seen in these patients could be as a result of patients experiencing positive emotions when listening to music that they like. The team suggest that when a patient experiences positive emotions this may result in more efficient signalling in the brain. This may then improve the patient's awareness by giving the brain more resources to process stimuli.
Dr David Soto, the lead author of the study from the Division of Neurosciences and Mental Health at Imperial College London, said: "Visual neglect can be a very distressing condition for stroke patients. It has a big effect on their day-to-day lives. For example, in extreme cases, patients with visual neglect may eat only the food on the right side of their plate, or shave only half of their face, thus failing to react to certain objects in the environment.
"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. 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," added Dr Soto.