Respiratory failure, malnutrition, aspiration pneumonia, and dehydration are the precursors to mortality in ALS. Loss of natural communication is considered one of the worst aspects of ALS. This first study to test the feasibility of a music therapy protocol for bulbar and respiratory rehabilitation in ALS employs a mixed-methods case study series design with repeated measures. Newly diagnosed patients meeting the inclusion criteria were invited to participate, until the desired sample size (n = 8) was achieved. The protocol was delivered to participants in their homes twice weekly for six weeks. Individualised exercise sets for independent practice were provided. Feasibility data (recruitment, retention, adherence, tolerability, self-motivation and personal impressions) were collected. Bulbar and respiratory changes were objectively measured. Results. A high recruitment rate (100%), a high retention rate (87.5%) and high mean adherence to treatment (95.4%) provide evidence for the feasibility of the study protocol. The treatment was well tolerated. Mean adherence to the suggested independent exercise routine was 53%. The outcome measurements to evaluate the therapy-induced change in bulbar and respiratory functions were defined. Findings suggest that the protocol is safe to use in early- and mid-stage ALS and that music therapy was beneficial for the participants' bulbar and respiratory functions. Mean trends suggesting that these functions were sustained or improved during the treatment period were observed for most outcome parameters: Maximal Inspiratory Pressure, Maximal Expiratory Pressure, Peak Expiratory Flow, the Center for Neurologic Study-Bulbar Function Scale speech and swallowing subscales, Maximum Phonation Time, Maximum Repetition Rate-Alternating, Maximum Repetition Rate-Sequential, Jitter, Shimmer, NHR, Speaking rate, Speech-pause ratio, Pause frequency, hypernasality level, Time-to-Laryngeal Vestibule Closure, Maximum Pharyngeal Constriction Area, Peak Position of the Hyoid Bone, Total Pharyngeal Residue C24area. Conclusion. The suggested design and protocol are feasible for a larger study, with some modifications, including aerodynamic measure of nasalance, abbreviated voice sampling and psychological screening.
Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); bulbar; communication; cough; motor neurone disease (MND); music; music therapy; palliative; rehabilitation; respiratory training; speech; swallowing.