Aphasia is a language disorder that can occur after a stroke or other brain injury. Aphasia can affect a person's ability to produce or comprehend speech, writing, and reading, but it does not affect intelligence. About 2 million people in the United States are diagnosed with this isolating condition, making it more common than Parkinson’s Disease, yet over 85% of the general population have not heard of the term "aphasia" (National Aphasia Association, aphasia.org).
Speaking may be difficult for some individuals with aphasia, but singing may be easier, possibly due to neural pathways and connections within the brain. I developed my first "aphasia choir" in 2013 and found that it was beneficial to clients' well-being, mood, and participation levels in a group setting. During my recent doctoral program, my research study on the effects of singing on word finding skills yielded positive results. By the end of the semester, members weren't only singing more, but they were also speaking more - they were observed to be smiling, laughing, and making positive connections with one another. During the Fall semester, we attended events together, such as going to the movies and dinner and a show. They started as strangers, turned into friends, and soon became family. They look forward to weekly rehearsals, which are currently held online due to the coronavirus.
Overall benefits of singing for this population include developing a sense of connection with others, improving morale and mood, and using their voices in a new way. Additionally, Sing Aphasia welcomes all caregivers, family members, and/or friends to join in singing and making music. It is a great way for participants to bond with their loved ones, in addition to making new friends. Plus, it's fun!
After spending the last month recruiting participants for a virtual aphasia choir project for Aphasia Awareness Month in June, I reached six continents -- Sing Aphasia went international in a matter of weeks! Since then, I have hosted live Zoom choir rehearsals for participants all over the world - I am literally "teaching the world to sing!" I am thrilled to receive positive, uplifting feedback from participants and their families.
Now that Sing Aphasia has gained international recognition I have thought long and hard about applying to become a nonprofit organization. Becoming a nonprofit would allow me to grow and expand my programs and extend their reach to people all over the world. I would love to be able to provide more in-person and virtual music programs for individuals with aphasia and their families, in addition to providing resources to professionals (e.g., speech-language pathologists, music therapists, church choir directors, music teachers) interested in starting their own aphasia choir in their communities, but not knowing how to start.
I would use the funds raised to pay for applications and resources required for becoming a nonprofit. This may include fees for incorporation, 501(c), charitable registration, and website maintenance.
My partner in this international virtual aphasia choir project, Trent Barrick, is a music therapist with his own company, Neuro Music Therapy, LLC (nmtworks.com). He will be compiling and editing our video for publication on social media. Based on the success of our first video, we have plans to make two more videos by the end of 2020. If possible, I would like to use some funds to support our video projects. We are excited about this video possibly going "viral" and being part of the movement for increasing aphasia awareness all over the world.
I hope you will consider supporting this cause. Benefits of song can be tremendous in helping stroke survivors recover some of their communication skills, improve their quality of life, and importantly - find their voice.
As one participant told me during a recent Sing Aphasia rehearsal, "it's good for my heart."
Dr. Gillian Velmer
Founder, Sing Aphasia