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Art Improves Quality of Life in Stroke Victims

New research just published by the European Society of Cardiology sheds some pretty interesting light on what looks, on first glance, like more scientists taking chunks of time, brainpower and funding to tell us what we already knew.

That art improves the quality of life of stroke-sufferers, well, it seems logical enough. But there are further implications to the research.

Part of the issue is the difficulty of finding a valid control group. It's disingenuous to pretend that a group of individuals who express a love of 'music, painting and theatre' won't be numerically skewed toward the affluent. And, as a group, it would be just as disngenuous to suggest that the affluent didn't have a healthier lifestyle, en masse, than the less wealthy.

Certainly, there will be exceptions to both statements, but they are broadly true. So decoding research findings that rely on patients' pre-existing enjoyment of artistic endeavour will always come with certain provisos and limitations.

What is interesting about the research though, is the penultimate paragraph. Concerning music. This news item is not the place to open a debate upon the relative artistic merits of popular music versus visual art or theatre.

Nevertheless, as an artform, music, arguably, has much more reach than either of the other two. Even the most rabid philistine has a favourite song. That exposure to favourite music releases dopamine, and that it improves quality of life is a truism known to music fans worldwide, and so far back into our history that our own word 'enchant' derives from the ability that song (chant) has to affect our mentality.

Nice to see it recognised by science.

Art improves stroke survivors' quality of life

Copenhagen, 16 March 2012: Stroke survivors who like art have a significantly higher quality of life than those who do not, according to new research. Patients who appreciated music, painting and theatre recovered better from their stroke than patients who did not.

For the research (FPN 38), 192 stroke survivors (average age 70 years) were asked if they liked or did not like art (music, painting, theatre). Quality of life was compared for patients interested in art (105) and patients not interested in art (87).

Patients interested in art had better general health, found it easier to walk, and had more energy. They were also happier, less anxious or depressed, and felt calmer. They had better memory and were superior communicators (speaking with other people, understanding what people said, naming people and objects correctly).

Dr Vellone says: "Stroke survivors who saw art as an integrated part of their former lifestyle, by expressing appreciation towards music, painting and theatre, showed better recovery skills than those who did not."

"In our study the 'art' group of patients showed a comparable clinical picture to the 'no art' group," he adds. "This is important because it means that patients belonging to the 'art' group had a better quality of life independently from the gravity of stroke. The results suggest that art may make long term changes to the brain which help it recover when things go wrong."

listening to our favourite music directly stimulates a feeling a pleasure by releasing dopamine

Other researchers have shown that listening to our favourite music directly stimulates a feeling a pleasure by releasing dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the starting point of the so-called gratification circuit that activates oxytocin (the hormone of love) and finally endorphins (the molecules of pleasurable emotions). "Dopamine improves quality of life each time it is released in the brain," says Dr Vellone. "Further research is needed to see if other art forms stimulate dopamine release."

He adds: "These results shed light on the importance of lifelong exposure to art for improving the recovery process after a stroke. Introducing art into nursing care after stroke could help improve stroke survivors' quality of life."

Source: European Society of Cardiology


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