A patient who was left almost completely paralyzed from a rare disease is now walking and talking again, after a music therapist prescribed mindful listening to his favorite song every night—in this case, a tune by The Carpenters.
71 year-old Ian Palmer was struck down with Guillain-Barré syndrome last June, forcing him to spend seven months in a hospital where he was unable to walk or speak properly. The rare condition happens when a person’s own immune system attacks their body’s motor nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
“It selectively targets the motor nerve cells and you have to wait for them to regenerate—which in your 70s is quite worrying!”
“I was in intensive care, being suctioned 24 hours a day, as I couldn’t swallow, and this was leading to choking problems, and I had a nasogastric tube fitted for over four months.”
Ian’s speech was affected by the syndrome because it caused damage to his larynx, the tunnel in the back of the throat where air passes through to create sounds.
But when Ian was transferred to Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre, a state-of-the-art care unit in Lancashire, England, clinicians used music therapy techniques to overcome ‘near total paralysis of his body’.
His specialist, Clare, taught him mindfulness techniques using his favorite records—and he began listening to The Carpenters each night.
Ian was admittedly skeptical, but he can now walk 2 miles a day (3k) and have conversations with his family after the exercises “opened up” his brain.
He’s never been very musical, so when Sue Ryder first suggested music therapy he said, ‘What good is that going to do?’
“I’m a typical Northern man, and I thought, ‘What’s a girl with a guitar going to do for me—get me to the gym.’”
“But it really worked. Clare sat me down and explained the process. I learned that music is very unlike other therapies, as it opens up all of the brain.”
She taught Ian to sing a long note using his diaphragm to assist.
“I told her, ‘I don’t even know where that is!’ But, she explained that by calling on the diaphragm, you’re training the brain so that it can use other muscles too.
“It learns the pathways and reopens them.”
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Clare also got Ian to practice mindfulness techniques, with some assistance from his favorite records.
“She wanted something I could relax to, and being of a certain age, The Carpenters was my choice. She asked me to do it before bed, and now I put The Carpenters on every night.
“She told me to push away the thoughts, and just focus on the music.
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Ian, who has since been discharged from the clinic, which also has locations around England and Scotland, said he was amazed at the difference music therapy had made to his experience.
“One of my goals was to walk through my front door. Now I can take my headphones and go for a walk doing my vocal exercises. There’s been such a positive impact.”
Using his diaphragm, he also learned how to breathe more effectively.
“My mum couldn’t understand me when she first came to visit. But now I’m confident that the music therapy I’ve received has more than dealt with it, and my voice has been able to join the rest of my body in recovering.”
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