Singing as therapy
For many people recovering from severe strokes, speech is an ongoing problem. They often withdraw from activities to avoid the embarrassment of not being understood. In fact, it can be so difficult that they are unable to communicate their basic needs, such as needing a drink of water or help using the toilet. Occupational therapist Brian Lam and music therapist Brenda Lui at Minoru Residence in Richmond, BC have found a way to work on people’s speech through music, breathing and oral motor exercises.
Each week, eight to 10 residents meet in the music room and sing songs, chant and do breathing exercises to improve their speech. Brian has found that some of the group members need help increasing their volume as well as clarity. “In last year’s group, there was a resident who spoke so softly that the care attendants could not hear her at all. It was very frustrating for everyone,” describes Brian. “The breathing exercises helped her a great deal.”
Brian also makes sure that the residents have adequate seating so their posture is maintained to make it easier to breath, talk and eat. Some of the residents that have speech difficulties also have trouble swallowing.
The residents who attend the group do so to improve their speech. They recognize that everyone is there to practise exercises in order to speak better and in the process, they become more comfortable and friendships evolve. “They can laugh and encourage one another, knowing that everyone is in the same boat,” says Brian.
When improvements are made, it can be very emotional. Brian recalls a resident who was able to say his wife’s name for the first time in several years. She visited the group one day and when he called her name there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It’s amazing how just one word can mean so much.
For more information about this program, contact Brian Lam at tel: (604) 244-5324 or by e-mail: Brian_Lam@RHSS.BC.CA. You can also experience the group on the Internet at: http://homepage.mac.com/residentminoru/
This article first appeared in the September/ October 2002 issue of Occupational Therapy Now magazine published by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.
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