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Wales’ Aphasia-Friendly Choir helps stroke patients find their voice

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Wales’ first in-patient aphasia-friendly choir has helped stroke survivors with communication difficulties find their voice again and regain confidence. 

In 2019, Vicky Guise, a music therapist at Chroma, joined speech and language therapist Esther Goodhew and stroke consultant Dr. Jelley of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to develop an aphasia-friendly choir project for patients recovering from strokes. 

Aphasia is a complex communication difficulty that often arises following a stroke and can affect all modes of communication. It can cause difficulty in understanding, speaking, reading and writing, which is where picture support can help. 

The initial eight-week pilot project finished with a successful Christmas performance for staff and family members, with the choir performing alongside the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Sessions soon re-started in January 2020 but unfortunately ceased once Covid hit in March. After securing funding in the latter part of 2022, the choir was able to re-group in August 2022 for 22 weeks.

The choir, which helps stroke survivors who have developed communication difficulties as a result of a stroke and as a wellbeing intervention, is now looking to secure more funding to keep the project going.

The initial project saw 12 participants and 10 in the subsequent choir. The aphasia-friendly sessions highlight certain lyrics and making key words bold as well as add-in illustrations or a picture to support the meaning of the words on all PowerPoints for the sessions.

Chroma’s Vicky Guise said: “Research suggests singing can be a way for people to enhance their speech following a stroke. The sessions contained plenty of warm up exercises as at that point, especially in someone’s stroke recovery, they may not have used their voice much or may have lost confidence in using their voice altogether. 

“The sessions are created with different stages of rehabilitation in mind and patients are able to join in any way they feel comfortable. Patients are also able to just come along and listen to the session and meet with other patients and staff on the ward and build social connections.”

The choir use familiar songs such as ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music and ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba, to trigger speech, with many songs being chosen by the participants, which gives them ownership of the sessions. Songs are varied depending on who is in the group at that time but generally, songs will be familiar to most, if not all of the participants.

In the pilot project, participants’ mood was also measured before and after the choir using aphasia-friendly face scales of 1-7, which provided reliable qualitative data that demonstrated statistically significant improvement in mood for all participants.

Esther Goodhew, speech and language therapist at the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, added: “We are passionate about the benefits of an aphasia friendly choir!  It was such a joy watching patients come together to sing and see the friendships that developed between them and also between their families.  We would love to see aphasia friendly choirs included as part of stroke rehabilitation across Wales and indeed the whole of the UK, so other patients, families and teams can benefit from this wonderful shared experience.” 

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