Queensland’s Sing to Beat Aphasia choir held a special performance at the Logan City Library this week as a part of National Stroke Week.
Singers in Sing to Beat Aphasia choir suffer from aphasia and other conditions that affect language, but singing is helping them have a better quality of life.
Aphasia is caused by an injury to the brain, most commonly from a stroke, and is an impairment of language that affects the production or comprehension of speech, and the ability to read or write.
Experts believe music therapy can bypass the injured brain cells using rhythm and memory to prompt the words.
QEII Hospital speech pathologist Lydia Brown took over as director of Sing to Beat Aphasia choir 18 months ago and said her own skills seemed perfectly suited to the task.
“It just seemed like a perfect blend of my skills; speech pathology, singing and using my creative side,” Ms Brown said.
She said being part of the Sing to Beat Aphasia choir helped members of all ages to redevelop their language skills, as well as helping them become more social, since many people feel isolated after having a stroke.
“I think mainly [this group offers people] a chance to get outside the house, social isolation is a big problem both in the elderly and disabled population,” Ms Brown said.
“Of course not all of our people are elderly, there are some young people here too,” she said.
Ms Brown said she wanted the public to be more aware of the effects of stroke and how to treat people with aphasia.
“We want to get the word out about how people with aphasia want to be treated,” she said.
“Often times people will interact with them and then they will assume they are stupid.”
“It’s a very specific disability, so it doesn’t affect intelligence at all,” Ms Brown said.
“It doesn’t affect hearing or vision, it just affects language.”
“It’s not speech, language is different to speech, it’s the actual language centres in the brain that process what language means,” she said.
“They [people with aphasia] just want to be treated with respect and dignity, and be spoken to normally.”
Ms Brown said the Sing to Beat Aphasia choir wrote a song about aphasia and now sing it at their regular choir practices.
“As part of that I sent home a questionnaire for them asking them: ‘What does aphasia mean to you and what can you still do?’”
“The most common answer was ‘I am still smart’ and ‘treat me like you would treat anyone’”.
“I think that is true of not just aphasia, but [of] so many disabilities,” Ms Brown said.
The singers in the Sing to Beat Aphasia Choir also belt out numbers like Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” (A star Is Born) and ABBA classic “Dancing Queen”.
Choir members Christine and Mal McCouat said there was a “bit of competition” among the group about the era the songs were chosen from.
The couple said their favourite songs were the older ones from the 1940s to the 1960s.
“I really like that Scottish song about going down the mountains… ‘Loch Lomond’,” Ms McCouat said.
Mal McCouat doesn’t suffer from aphasia but said he did enjoy going along and singing with Christine, although he admitted to not being a very good singer.
“It’s great for me, but not for everyone else,” Mr McCouat said.
The McCouats said it didn’t matter if an individual group member wasn’t a good singer, because it was harder to hear each individual’s voice when the whole group was singing.
The couple said they found out about the group a week before its inception about two years ago, which came as great timing because it was just months after Ms McCouat’s stroke.
“At first I could only speak two words,” Ms McCouat said.
“I am very happy with how far I have come,” she said.
Ms Brown said building routines could also assist in stroke recovery and said the song choices at choir were no exception.
“We sing ‘Amazing Grace’ every single time, it’s our closing song,” she said.
“I tried not to do it one time and they yelled ‘hey!’”
“Letting them choose the music helps to pick emotionally relevant songs that they are more likely to know and be able to sing,” she said.
Ms Brown said stroke could affect people at any age, so it was important for people to be aware of the warning signs.
“People really need to look out for the warning signs of a stroke, such as numbness, tingling, weakness or paralysis of one side of the body or face,” Ms Brown said.
“If any of that happens the worst thing you can do is lay down and take a nap, [and] the best thing you can do is call triple zero,” she said.
National Stroke Week events will take place around the country until Sunday September 8.
For more information about the signs of stroke or to take part in National Stroke Week events, visit their website.