Singing helps Tony after stroke

STRONG SINGERS: Tony Wiseman and his wife Jennifer sing at the Auckland University Centre for Brain Research CeleBRation Choir every Monday.
STRONG SINGERS: Tony Wiseman and his wife Jennifer sing at the Auckland University Centre for Brain Research CeleBRation Choir every Monday.

A stroke caused by prescribed medication left Tony Wiseman semi-paralysed and unable to speak with his wife.

But the 72-year-old found solace in the CeleBRation Choir.

He found out singing uses a different part of the brain.

The choir was created in 2009 by the Auckland University Centre for Brain Research and started as a social gathering for sufferers of neurological conditions including stroke and Parkinson's disease.

It is at the centre of a study led by Auckland University head of speech science Suzanne Purdy who is investigating how singing influences the brain of those with neurological conditions.

Mr Wiseman suffered a stroke in 2008 after taking medication to thin his blood.

He lives in the Elizabeth Knox Home and Hospital in Epsom where he copes with mild aphasia, or difficulty with speech, and paralysis.

Mr Wiseman's wife Jennifer says her husband had been looking for a therapy to help with motivation and general wellbeing.

"In 2010 we went to brain day and discovered there was a choir and they sang at the stroke club we were members of," she says. "And we said please, we want to come."

Mr Wiseman had been a keen choral singer in his school days and at church when he was younger.

"It was an obvious thing to go back to when we found out about it and how it could help," Mrs Wiseman says. "I think it's great to be getting out because a stroke causes people to sit around and do nothing – people don't have the motivation to do anything."

And taking the step to join the choir is something Mr Wiseman is pleased he did.

"I will sing every chance I get," he says. "I always come away feeling good."

Mrs Wiseman says her husband enjoys every part of the choir and singing isn't difficult for him, despite his aphasia.

"Singing is such a mental thing and here we help each other," she says.

"It's a social thing and we know each other and enjoy each other – people accept you, singing here is acceptance."

Dr Purdy was approached last year to initiate the research from positive findings within the choir.

"A group of us got together and brainstormed how the choir was making a difference. And it seemed from early research that there were the physical benefits like breathing and the recognition of the social interaction."

She says the early research led her team to take out a Health Research Council grant and carry out a feasibility study.

"The feasibility study had over 14 members of the choir agree to be in it, testing them using pitch, prosody and voice projection The study looks promising and we have good results and enthusiastic support – it shows some change over time."

The next stage for the research project is for staff to apply for funding and do a randomised control trial.

Dr Purdy says the results are exciting and staff have been heartened by the support of those in the choir.

"To demonstrate we can make a difference, that there is a change after being in the choir for 17 weeks and a change in the people's quality of life is very exciting," she says.

Central Leader