horse
Stroke

Equine and Music Therapy May Help Stroke Survivors

Horseback riding and rhythm-and-music therapies may improve stroke survivors’ perception of recovery, gait, balance, grip strength and cognition even years after their stroke, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.

A variety of interventions that engage patients in physical, sensory, mental and social activities target a range of functions at the same time, investigators said. Researchers said this combination of different activities and stimuli, rather than the individual components, appears to produce additional beneficial effects for stroke recovery.

“Significant improvements are still possible, even years after a stroke, using motivating, comprehensive therapies provided in stimulating physical and social surroundings to increase brain activity and recovery,” Michael Nilsson, M.D., Ph.D. senior author and Director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute and Professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia and University of Gothenburg, Sweden, said in a news release from the AHA.

Researchers studied 123 Swedish men and women (age 50-75) who had suffered strokes between 10 months and 5 years earlier. Survivors were randomly assigned to rhythm-and-music therapy, horse-riding therapy or ordinary care (the control group). The therapies were given twice a week for 12 weeks.

Researchers found that among the survivors who felt they experienced an increased perception of recovery:

  • 56 percent were in the horse-riding group;
  • 38 percent in the rhythm and music group; and
  • 17 percent in the “control or usual care” group.

The perception of recovery was sustained at three-month and six-month follow-ups.

Horse-riding therapy produces a multisensory environment and the three-dimensional movements of the horse’s back create a sensory experience that closely resembles normal human gait and is beneficial for stroke survivors.

In rhythm-and-music therapy patients listen to music while performing rhythmic and cognitively demanding hand and feet movements to visual and audio cues. Researchers found that the rhythm-and-music activity helped survivors with balance, grip-strength and working memory.

According to the AHA news release, limitations of the study include the relatively small number of participants, and survivors with severe disabilities could not be considered for the therapy. In addition, researchers doubt these therapies would be cost-effective if patients with mild deficiencies had been included.

Further analyses of the study results and follow-up studies involving more participants are planned to help determine efficiency, timing and costs.

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association’s policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events.The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

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