Local couple bring music therapy to stroke victims in Taiwan – Columbus Dispatch

When they kicked off their stroke survivors group in Taiwan, Dan Kuhn sat in a wheelchair as his wife, Bridget, pushed him along.

He then put on a golf hat, stood up and hit a long putt down the aisle. “I said, ‘I am a stroke survivor and I do things.'”

The Kuhns, of Worthington Hills, started the group about five years ago, modeled after OhioHealth groups they had attended after Dan suffered a stroke in 2003 that immobilized the right side of his body.

In Taiwan, the couple said, stroke survivors mostly stay home, with families hiding them from view.

“I wanted to impress upon them, ‘You don’t need to hide under a bushel basket. Don’t hide the light,'” said Mr. Kuhn, 73. “You’re people, too. You have rights and wants and needs and fears and everything we all have.

“You need to be able to express those.”

The Kuhns spend about eight months a year in Taitung City, Taiwan, where they operate the Taitung Taiwan Stroke Survivors Support Association. The couple have been living part-year in Taiwan for about eight years. When she retired from teaching, Mrs. Kuhn decided to teach there for a year, and the couple returned.

Mr. Kuhn, a retired businessman, studied music in college.

The couple started the Taiwan stroke-support group after realizing there were few programs to help survivors learn to cope with all the changes in their lives.

They’ve brought in speakers, started art therapy and, in recent months, music therapy, using the tips they pick up at a music therapy group that meets at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital to help people who are recovering from strokes and other brain disorders.     

The Kuhns take components of the music class and modify them to accommodate the Taiwanese culture, said Amy Dunlap, a certified music therapist who facilitates the OhioHealth music therapy group.

She said music therapy can circumvent areas of brain injury and compensate for deficiencies so much so that sometimes people who have trouble speaking are able to sing fluently.

“Music, unlike pretty much any other therapy, impacts the brain in a really unique way, in a really global way,” she said. “If we look at the brain while it’s processing music, the whole brain is lighting up …  a brain that’s engaging in music is using the whole brain.”

Dr. B.J. Hicks, an OhioHealth vascular neurologist, said research also has shown that survivors of strokes and traumatic brain injuries who participate in music and art therapy are better able to participate in general therapy and everyday activities. It also helps with anxiety and depression.

The group in Taiwan, Hicks said, is an international example of the way patients have modeled programs after OhioHealth offerings.

“It’s phenomenal,” he said. “It’s always a pipe dream for something to blossom like it has in this case.”

During a Thursday class at Riverside, participants played a number of percussion instruments, including maracas, rhythm sticks and a West African djembe drum.

As the Kuhns joined in the chorus to “My Girl,” he used his left hand to beat on a Buffalo Drum, leaned toward his wife and smiled. She shook a red tambourine and smiled back.

Their group in Taiwan meets every other month at St. Mary’s Hospital in Taitung and started offering the music therapy about a year ago.

While every stroke is different, music has a commonality that draws members of the Taiwan group together and helps them relax so they can discuss the issues they face, Mr. Kuhn said.

Participants also tend to feel less depressed and isolated, Mrs. Kuhn added.

“People seem to connect to music,” she said. “It can make you feel patriotic. It can make you feel nostalgic. It just can make you feel happy.”

To learn more, go to www.ttsssa.org.

 jviviano@dispatch.com

@JoAnneViviano

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