Health Beat: Singing for speech! Restoring stroke victims' voices

It steals your speech, scrambles your thoughts and robs you of your ability to move.  Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America. It's the number one cause of disability. Now, stroke victims are turning to song to get their voices back.

Imagine having a stroke and having to re-learn how to do a lot of things.  Now imagine, if music could help you.

Different patients, all with the same story. 

"I woke up and I was numb on one side," said Barbara Pope, a stroke patient.  

"I cannot move my right arm," said Lee Jordan, another patient.

"It's all in there. It's in there, but it can't have an outlet," said Phil Liu, who, like many stroke victims, woke up and couldn't speak. "The only word I could say was, 'Yes.'"

Liu is now talking again, thanks to music.

Patients at the Oregon Stroke Center come together each week to sing. New research suggests singing or playing music, maybe even just hearing it, helps rewire the brain after a stroke.

"Music is represented more in the right side of the brain in most people, and language more on the left side," explained Dr. Helmi Lutsep, a professor of neurology at Oregon Health & Science University.

Doctors are trying to use music to move language skills from the left to the right side of the brain.

"Maybe we can allow language also to sort of rewire itself," said Lutsep.

And it may never be too late to start.

"We've done trials with people as late as 17 years out from their stroke, and they still showed improvement," Lutsep said.

New studies out of Temple University found that music not only affects a person's motor abilities, but also lowered stroke patients' blood pressure, heart rate, and level of anxiety.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Helmi Lutsep about using music to restore stroke victims' music

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