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Music therapy sessions get cyclist back on track

Patrick Bartlett, music therapist at Chroma, discusses supporting the 80-year-old after a road collision

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I began music therapy sessions with an 80-year-old cyclist who had suffered significant trauma – physically, psychologically and cognitively, following a road traffic accident. He had been having treatment for a year and a half before I joined the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) treating him.

While he could speak, his speech was rusty and would frequently forget words, looking quickly to his partner to answer for him. He also had a short attention span and would frequently veer off topic especially if the conversation was emotional – I would have to constantly encourage him to stay on track of the conversation.

With a background in amateur dramatics, a love of music, and having sung in a choir for many years, music therapy was ideal for him, and he responded almost immediately. Of course, having a musical background is not a requirement for music therapy, but in this case, it definitely worked in his favour as his engagement was extremely high.

Sessions were always individually led and specific to the client’s needs. For him, we wanted to work on supporting his speech, his attention span and his engagement. He had occupational and physioherapist support for physical rehabilitation, so while I supported his speech, I also assisted with his standing, posture and breathing.

Speech is much more than just saying words – both posture and breathing have a major impact on speaking, the rate, and the quality of speech. Tense shoulders and tense facial muscles can affect the quality of speech, so we wanted to work on improving those things.

So, our sessions focused on breathing, diaphragm work, relaxed shoulders, untimed speech, (which was a huge hurdle for him), and vocal warm-ups, to help build his confidence in speaking. Encouraging him to relax his shoulders whilst using vocal warm-ups such as articulations to improve facial movements when speaking, positively affected his speaking ability.

I aimed to support all aspects of his speech, posture and mindset, so I helped him to re-learn skills such as the ability to not rush to finish sentences, to slow down his rate of speech, and proper breathing techniques (all of which he was familiar with from his background in music), all the while ensuring the sessions were tailored to his particular needs and goals.

His progress has been remarkable and swift. This is most likely due to his high level of engagement and trust with me in sessions. He also had a great motivation to put into practice the exercises/techniques we used in sessions, at home.

As a result, his speech is greatly improved, his mood is positive, and his words flow much more fluently.

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