Singing Despite COPD? No, Singing to HELP COPD

A recent email exchange between a research fellow at Haukeland University Hospital in Norway and PERF board member Mary Burns, RN, BS, about singing with respiratory disorders, brought up memories and a funny story that Mary has given us permission to share. The researcher wrote:

In the past 6 years, I have been investigating dysfunctional breathing and related respiratory conditions in a diverse population (in neonates, COPD and asthma patients as well as in athletes).

I visited Janos Porszasz last week at UCLA and he drew my attention to the PERF website, where I found some interesting blog reports related to singing and respiratory disorders. I had been involved in a project back in the UK investigating the health benefits of singing in patients with COPD and I thought our research might be of interest to you.

Here is Mary’s response:

Dear Irisz,

I am sorry I missed you when you were at the lab.  Your information was interesting and brought back many happy memories of patients, and of Norway.   I was fortunate enough to get invited to Norway 3 times for 2 weeks, twice spending most of my time in Tromso, though I lectured in Bergen at a large seminar also. I love beautiful Norway and the wonderful people I met there and with whom I am still in touch.

You can’t go wrong with a project like yours. As your research shows, no one fails and everyone is a winner, if only for the sense of well being it gives to them. Who can be depressed, when all they need to do is hum something like “Oh, My Darling Clementine” or “Camp Town Racetracks” (funny folksongs Americans sang as children)?  And how nice for you as a researcher to work on something like this!

Many, many years ago, in the early 1980’s, a well known Jewish pulmonologist got many laughs during a lecture telling us he recommended that all his patients become Christians so they could join the local church choir to improve their breathing.

One of my patients on oxygen with an FEV1 of 16% did love singing, but was afraid to try when he was the only one on oxygen. Three of his COPD classmates joined him wearing oxygen tubes they didn’t need, singing at a rally. After that he continued in his old singing group on his own without support.

While we tried singing groups, I found something that worked better for most of our patients, many of whom couldn’t carry a tune. We gave everyone a kazoo, which I found at the local toy store. Even the most tone deaf could hum into one of them. I have a wonderful picture of a group of them trying to perform at one of our annual Respiratory Rallies. They were laughing so hard they couldn’t continue and the audience cracked up along with them, everyone doubling over with laughter at the mistakes they were making in the songs they were trying to perform. I’m going to have to find that picture for you.

They called laughing “internal jogging,” after a book by Norman Cousins. These patients got the benefits of humming silly songs into the kazoo, feeling like kids, and laughing while they were trying it, along with the staff. It was fun!

So best of luck to you in spreading the word about the benefits of singing, or humming and of laughing as a way of helping their COPD and making pulmonary rehab fun.

Warm regards,

Mary

Below is a short 2015 video describing the assessments made by the United Kingdom research group: It’s called “Singing For Better Breathing.”

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