By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

A little horsing around to music may be good therapy for stroke survivors.

In a study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, horseback riding and rhythm-and-music therapies improved survivors’ perception of recovery, gait, balance, grip strength and cognition years after their stroke.

A variety of interventions that engage patients in physical, sensory, cognitive and social activities simultaneously target a range of functions. Researchers said the combination of different activities and stimuli — rather than the individual components — appear 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,” said Michael Nilsson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Hunter Medical Research Institute and professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia and University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Researchers studied 123 Swedish men and women who had suffered strokes 10 months to five years earlier. Survivors were randomly assigned to rhythm-and-music therapy, horse-riding therapy or ordinary care twice a week for 12 weeks.

Among those who said their perception recovery increased, 56 percent were in the horse-riding group; 38 percent in the rhythm-and-music group; and 17 percent in the 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.

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.

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