It’s said that singing heals the soul, but what if it actively helps people with respiratory disease? In a world first, Monash University researchers are currently recruiting people with two common, and incurable, chronic lung diseases into a two-year trial to see whether online group singing improves their condition.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an incurable condition characterised by airflow limitation, persisting respiratory symptoms, and progressive respiratory failure. In Australia, COPD represents 43% of all chronic respiratory disease burden, affecting 30% of people aged over 75 years, with disproportionate impacts on those living in regional areas or with lower socioeconomic status. With over 72,000 admissions each year attributable to COPD, it is the third leading cause of avoidable hospitalisation and generates significant healthcare costs. Internationally, COPD is the second most common respiratory disease after asthma in the United Kingdom and the third leading cause of death worldwide.
Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is an umbrella term which captures a large group of diseases resulting in fibrosis of the lungs which often generate distressing, progressive symptoms, and account for a further 8% of chronic respiratory disease burden in Australia.
According to Associate Professor Natasha Smallwood, the Head of the Chronic Respiratory Disease laboratory at Monash University’s Central Clinical School who is leading the trial, pulmonary rehabilitation which includes exercise, breath training, psychosocial counselling, and patient education, has been shown to improve symptoms and function, and reduce hospitalisations. “Despite these benefits, of the nearly 1.5 million older Australians living with symptomatic COPD, fewer than 10% have ever accessed a program,” she said.
“Singing can be delivered as a guided, weekly, group-based activity, emphasising focus and control of breathing for patients with COPD and ILD.”
Online singing gained traction during COVID lockdowns when the risk of aerosol spread of the virus led to banning of choirs. “Online delivery of singing represents an attractive opportunity to improve healthcare access for participants with limited mobility, poor health, or who live in a rural location with limited access to health services,” the authors added.
The SingINg For breathing in COPD aNd ILD pAtients (SINFONIA) trial is a phase II/III trial of guided, online group singing that will be conducted over 24 months. Data will be collected on quality of life, anxiety and depression, breathlessness, mastery of breathing, exercise tolerance, loneliness, healthcare utilisation, and carer quality of life (optional).
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