Summary

Adults living with communication disorders face formidable challenges to social wellbeing. Foremost among these is the social isolation and loneliness that can arise as a downstream consequence of impaired communication. In particular, they may develop a disability focus, believing that they are no longer able to have meaningful communication, or engage in social activities and relationships.

Here we define a communication disorder (CD) broadly as any condition that affects an individual’s ability to produce, perceive or understand verbal and nonverbal aspects of speech to engage in discourse effectively with others. This includes conditions that consider impaired communication to be a primary symptom (aphasia, stuttering, hearing loss), and others that consider it to be a secondary symptom (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, breathing disorders). Taken together, people living with CD account for approximately 10% of the adult population.

The current project considers group singing as a meaningful social activity for people living with CD that appears to have potential to support communication function (production, perception and understanding). While other effective interventions already exist for supporting communication deficits in CD, they are highly medicalized, costly to deploy, not widely available in remote communities, and generally not effective with regard to combatting social wellbeing issues related to CD. Thus, group singing for CD appears to be worthy of further consideration from scientific, practical, economic, and ethical standpoints.

This project has three complementary objectives:

(1)Knowledge Generation. The assembled network will increase scientific understanding of the effects of group singing on social wellbeing and its effects on communication function in people living with the following CDs: (i) aphasia, (ii) breathing disorders, (iii) hearing loss, (iv) stuttering, and (v) Parkinson’s disease. A secondary aim will be to document the ongoing interactions between communication gains and social wellbeing in adults living with CDs who engage in group singing. Moreover, we aim to clarify the sociobiological (e.g., neuroendocrinological) underpinnings of these social effects.

(2)Knowledge Mobilization. The assembled network will be able to facilitate transfer and uptake of knowledge to receptor communities including support organizations, practitioners, and the general public. Through our website (singwell.ca) and our partnership with Choral Canada and CD-related societies, we will be able to distribute best practice documents. Through our partnership with the Alliance for Healthier Communities we will build an economic case for the social prescribing of singing.

(3)Training. The assembled network will provide interdisciplinary training to highly qualified personnel (inclusive of graduate students and postdocs). This will include training by experts in communication disorders as well as training by experts in different research methods of high relevance to this area of research (e.g., mixed linear modelling, gerontology, choral direction, social psychology, and neuroendocrinology). A culminating objective for training is to establish an accreditation program for practitioners, who wish to lead singing in groups composed of people living with CDs.

More generally, the current project will fill gaps in the literature, develop a comprehensive understanding of best practices, and work towards knowledge mobilization, thereby broadening the scope of individuals living with CDs who may benefit from group singing.

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