Charles (not his real name) was an avid singer, regularly participating in singing competitions. In 2018 the 70-year-old suffered a severe stroke and lost his ability to speak. This was detrimental to his mental wellbeing and he was in a low mood during his hospital stay. Knowing that he liked to sing and was receptive to music therapy, his doctor referred him to Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Music Therapist Michelle Low. As Charles was unable to afford the $3,000 required for 24 sessions of music therapy, the Music and Creative Therapy Unit had to look for funding to help him receive treatment to improve his wellbeing and speech functions.
Like Charles, many patients requiring music therapy are in need of financial support as there is currently no government subsidy available to defray such costs. To ensure these patients get the treatment they need, the SGH Music and Creative Unit has launched a year-long fundraising campaign on giving.sg to raise $200,000. This will support 160 needy patients in their healing journey and regain their quality of life with music.
To learn more about the work of the Music and Creative Therapy Unit and their fundraising campaign, we spoke with Michelle Low, Music Therapist, SGH.
About the Campaign
Q: What prompted you to set up a fundraising campaign and how has it been progressing so far?
Michelle: At SGH, music therapy is used to help patients suffering from debilitating illnesses such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Music therapy not only helps patients to cope with physical pain and mental trauma of the illness, but also to recover faster and improve their quality of life. However, many of our patients are financially in need, and we are very aware of the burden and stress that they and their caregivers face. So as a way to help our patients afford music therapy treatment, we have set up a year-long fundraising campaign to raise awareness of how music therapy services can help these specific groups of patients and rally support for this cause.
Currently we have raised only about 3% of our fundraising target aimed to help 160 patients afford music therapy. To help us reach our goal, we hope to reach out to anyone who wishes to support our cause by making a gift through our fundraising page at https://www.giving.sg/sghhdf/musictherapy.
Helping Charles towards his path of recovery
Q: Could you tell us about Charles, how has his music therapy sessions helped him?
Michelle: With Charles, we started his therapy by using music to coordinating his breathing, then the oral motor skills, and finally incorporating both of these elements. I remember he would also try to sing with me but got frustrated or teary when he could not produce any sound. He would express through gestures that he liked to sing and wanted to keep trying.
It took some time, but when he was eventually able to produce a sound he started crying because he finally was able to hear his own voice. His family members also cried tears of joy that day as it had been a long journey to reach this achievement. Since then, whenever he sang with me, he would always tear. He expressed that he did not know how important his voice was to him until he lost it.
About SGH Music and Creative Therapy Unit
Q: Tell us a bit about the Music and Creative Therapy Unit at SGH.
Michelle: Music therapy at SGH was first introduced in 2005 with a Music to the Ears programme that catered primarily to children with hearing impairment in the ENT Department. In 2011, it was expanded to the inpatient rehabilitation wards, primarily seeing patients undergoing rehabilitation for post-stroke care, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease etc. Further expansions in 2016 allowed us to review patient populations in dementia, oncology, and palliative care. For these patients, music therapy is used to help them regain their speech, cognition and motor coordination. Music therapy is also used to address psychological needs that include emotional regulation, pain, anxiety and overall mood.
Q: In what ways does Music and Creative Therapy help patients?
Michelle: Music therapy helps patients with both psycho-emotional and physiological needs.
For example, if a patient is referred to us for emotional regulation, pain and anxiety management, and uplifting of overall mood, we use a combination of interventions such as improvisation, song writing, instrumental play and song discussion. These interventions can be a form of non-verbal communication and give patients a safe outlet to express their feelings and develop resilience, be it coping skills or adjusting their mindset, to manage their current situation.
With patients referred to us for physiological needs, we make use of the rhythm in music to help them regulate movement and improve their functional level. A similar approach is also used with patients suffering from anxiety or require pain management. The music therapist would gradually titrate the elements of music, such as tempo and dynamics, to a level that helps the patient to feel less anxious. In the process of doing so, we foster self-awareness in patients to acknowledge and understand how to cope with their pain or anxiety.
For patients who are referred to us for speech-related problems, we use a combination of rhythm and melody in our sessions. Patients that we commonly see have expressive aphasia (the inability to retrieve words or talk fluently) and/or apraxia of speech (the inability to coordinate movement involving facial muscles). When working with patients who suffer from aphasia, we use a technique called Melodic Intonation Therapy whereby the patient’s unimpaired ability to sing is used to facilitate speech through sung melodies that resemble natural speech intonation patterns. By doing this, we are using the uninjured right brain to regain language ability in the left-brain. With apraxia of speech, one of the techniques used is Rhythmic Speech Cueing. The music therapist may use the patient’s hand or metronome to pace the rate of speech. This helps to facilitate motor planning of spoken words, therefore increasing intelligibility.
Over the past five years, SGH’s Music and Creative Therapy Unit has helped more than 350 patients like Charles on their journey to regain functional independence and confidence through music therapy. If you would like to support their cause, visit https://www.giving.sg/sghhdf/musictherapy or contact the SGH Development Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or +65 6326 6728 / +65 6326 6378.
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