SEP 21, 2015 4:44 AM PDT

Singing For Recovery

One of the most frustrating parts of suffering a stroke is the loss of speech. The official term for it is “aphasia” but that is a broad term that only describes the inability to speak, which could have several causes. Aphasia after a stroke puts patients at a higher risk for depression and feelings of frustration and isolation and can impact other parts of their recovery as well.
A new study, published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation, shows that patients who have had a stroke or have Parkinson’s Disease can be helped by participating in singing groups or what is called “Choral Singing Therapy” or CST.
Researchers from the University of the West of England in Bristol and the University of Auckland in New Zealand studied groups of patients with communication difficulties as a result of stroke or Parkinson’s. When these patients took part in chorale singing groups they reported feeling better about themselves and less isolated socially. In addition, their ability to communicate improved.
Laura Fogg-Rodgers, the lead author of the study at UWE in Bristol said “People with aphasia can often still sing, even when they can’t speak very well. Aphasia causes language problems, but the areas which control speech in the brain are different to those which control singing. It is really quite miraculous watching someone who can’t speak burst into song when they possibly haven’t been able to communicate for months or years.”

The reason some patients who experience difficulty speaking after a stroke or other neurological impairment is because their strokes have probably occurred in the left hemisphere of the brain. It is this part of the brain that controls language acquisition and expression as well as the cognitive ability to retrieve the proper words when trying to communicate.  The part of the brain that connects music notes, songs, lyrics and a lot of the other brain functions that allow us to sing is located in the right hemisphere. As with any brain deficit, when one half is compromised, the other half kicks in to make up for the loss and the ability to sing is sharpened somewhat. 
Speech pathologist Bronwyn Jones talked about the right hemisphere and music in an interview about a choir she works with in Melbourne Australia. Known as the “Stroke a Chord Choir” it’s made up entirely of stroke survivors. In an interview with Public Radio International’s program “The World” she said,  “The choir can sing because they have music processed in the right side of the brain, or in a bit more diffuse areas of the brain, so singing is left relatively untouched in a left hemisphere stroke.”
Jones has been working with the choir since 2010 and reports that many of the singers started out only having a few words, but eventually were able get back their full speech abilities, thanks in part to the choir.
Check out the video below to see how jazz singer and stroke survivor Valerie Giglio Samson got back to her career.
About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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