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Can singing help recover language skills after a stroke?

Grad student leads special choir for people with aphasia

Elizabeth Lanza has set out to discover if you can sing what you can’t say. The second-year NIU speech-language pathology graduate student 
wants to know if music can rehabilitate language skills for those who have aphasia.  

Aphasia is a language impairment which affects a person’s ability to speak, read or write. Those with aphasia haven’t forgotten words, just their access to themSo, they know what they want to say, they just can’t find the words. Aphasia can also affect a person’s ability to comprehend language that is spoken to them. Over 30 percent of stroke survivors have aphasia.  

Previous research has shown some people who have aphasia retain their ability to sing lyrics and music is commonly used in speech language therapy to re-access language for some people with aphasia. She hoped to build on this research, and determine if choral singing could lead to improvements in social participation, and in functional language skills. 

Lanza worked with her NIU Speech-Language Pathology Professor Jamie Mayer to develop a way to pursue her research interests. Lanza received a grant to travel to California to meet the folks behind an innovative aphasia choir in San Francisco. Inspired, she returned to DeKalb and created her own choir. She invited stroke survivors and others with aphasia to meet at a local retirement center to participate.  

Lanza named it Bridges Choir, a nod to the opposite sides of the brain that process language and music, as well as the connections singers could make with new friends in the group. The original choir has grown to include older adults with and without aphasia or other cognitive deficits. 

Their first public holiday concert was held in December. Though her research is ongoing, Lanza already has one solid finding: The Bridges Choir members have made new friends and are having a wonderful time.