Music therapy has been around for years, however, there is still a major shortage of professionals in the field. An award-winning service called SingFit is hoping to combat that shortage.
Through its cutting-edge technology, SingFit engages dementia patients with music from their youth (known as the reminiscence bump) and encourages them to sing along by prompting listeners with the lyrics. This method, versus a more passive approach, is proven to improve memory recall and the ability to communicate at a much higher level. It’s currently being used by nearly 500 facilities in the U.S. from elder care homes to day programs for individuals with cognitive brain issues. Now there’s an at-home platform called SingFit STUDIO Caregiver which will assist millions of unpaid caregivers tending to their loved ones by providing a user-friendly interface for non-trained practitioners.
DocWire News spoke with Rachel Francine, Founder & CEO of SingFit, to learn more about the company and its exciting potential.
DocWire News: Please provide us with some background on yourself.
Rachel Francine: Sure. My name is Rachel Francine. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Musical Health Technologies. We have a digital health platform called SingFit that uses singing as a therapeutic tool to treat a variety of healthcare conditions. I’ve been working in technology for a really long time. The platform debate that was going on when I entered tech was VHS versus Beta, and then got into the internet really early on in 96, Internet 1.0. I really always focused on how do you take something that’s freaking mortar and digitize it and scale it so it’s on the rollouts for like cars.com and apartments.com and those kinds of things. And then I got a Master’s degree in something a little odd called Future Studies, and then after I got out of graduate school, I started SingFit and Musical Health Technologies.
What is music therapy, and what are the benefits?
Well, music therapy in and of itself covers a wide variety of things, and really Western Music Therapy started in the VA hospitals after World War I, where they realized that when they would have live bands come in and play for returning soldiers during their recovery, they would recover faster. And so over the past hundred plus years, the field and academic study and practice of music therapy has come into to be a certified music therapist. You need to go either through an undergrad or graduate program, and what it teaches you to do is you are able to then use different modalities of music, be they drumming, be they singing, be they songwriting to help with a variety of healthcare conditions. And so what we have done with, because music has many different kinds of impacts on your health, so for example, what we do when somebody sings, you get a full brain bi hemispheric workout, so it’s like really getting that car running which is why it’s so good for dementia. But singing actively also releases and regulates all the good neuro chemicals and neurotransmitters like serotonin and oxytocin and endorphins.
So getting somebody singing has been proven to have really great impact on anxiety and depression and all kinds of mental health disorders. Obviously, the act of singing also is good for respiratory disease, and that’s just one slice of what a music therapist would do with a client. What we have done, because the challenge is there’s only 10,000 music therapists certified to practice in the US as opposed to say 120,000 speech language pathologists, so there’s this real distribution problem with music therapy proper, shall we say, where it’s a music therapist delivering it. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken just one aspect of music therapy added technology into it so that other kinds of healthcare professionals and individuals themselves can facilitate it. So what we do isn’t exactly music therapy because music therapy must be facilitated by a certified music therapist.
What we do is we put the power of therapeutic music into the hands of other kinds of healthcare professionals as well as individuals themselves by creating technology and protocols designed and tested, and built by music therapists. But in this way, we can expand the use of therapeutic music as a tool for all kinds of conditions.
How does SingFit work?
What the SingFit digital health platform does is, we have digitized a music therapy technique called Lyric Queuing or Lyric Coaching, so for example, when Gabrielle Giffords, who is the former congresswoman who had left hemisphere brain trauma from a gunshot wound to the head, when that happens, typically you lose the ability to speak because most speech takes place in the left hemisphere. However, singing takes place in the entire brain, so even when you can’t speak, you can often sing, so what a music therapist will do in that situation is they will play their guitar or their piano and they will then prompt verbally the words of the song to their client right before they need to be sung.
The client, as Giffords did, will then sing and then brain plasticity takes over and actually reroutes where speech takes place in the brain, so it’s that prompting technique both that Giffords with a music therapist and speech therapist used to regain her speech, but that same process is also what we’ve now digitized and put into both app and video form. And so our technology means that the music part of being a music therapist, we take care of that with the technology because our app has the lead vocal of a song, it has the prompting track, it has the background music track, and then the ability to record it all as well, and so that is the part of the technology that the front end user sees.
But underneath all of that are all of these algorithmic protocols designed by music therapists for specific conditions and taking them into account, so for example, if we do something called song printing with every song that’s in our catalog, so we have deals with Universal Music and Sony Music, and BMG and all of these different music publishers who have these great big songs like Singing in the Rain, we will use metadata tags to tag, for example, what is the vocal intensity that it takes to sing that song. And if it’s a climb every mountain and it’s this really intense song, then that song, algorithmically, would not be served up to somebody, say for example, with really chronic respiratory disease at first because there’s too much vocal intensity for that person. So the app is both the front end which is the prompting or the platform is both the front end which has that prompting in it, and lets people have this immersive singing experience, even if they have dementia or autism or have brain trauma or are blind frankly, or have vision impairments, it allows them to sing. And then the algorithms serve up the right songs for the right condition at the right time.
What are some interesting things SingFit has in the pipeline?
So we’ve had a product on the market for six years now called SingFit Prime, and that’s a group program that’s used in over 500 senior care and skilled nursing centers and hospitals across the country, and that’s where one facilitator will use our tech to lead a group of folks. Right now, we have two new products called SingFit Pro and SingFit Caregiver, and what these allow is really for an individual one-on-one experience so that any kind of therapist, a speech-language pathologist, a occupational therapist, physical therapist, can use SingFit with a client. And we mostly work on conditions affecting older adults at the moment, so usually there’s a facilitator for them. So there’s the Pro product that’s just come out as well as a Caregiver product, and this is both for paid caregivers, and as I call them love economy caregivers.
Actually, coined by an economist named Hazel Henderson which accounts for all of the activity in the economic system that’s done out of love by husbands and wives, and sons and daughters, and sisters and brothers and friends. And so those products are just coming onto the market now, and then two big new things are during COVID, many of our clients couldn’t use our group program because residents were confined to their rooms. And so we started getting all these calls in February, March of 2020 going, “We can’t do groups, what do you got?” So we came up with an idea called SingFit TV which allows for the video transmission of the SingFit session, so it’s an even lower bar to entry as far as technology goes which for a lot of older adults is a good thing. And we are just announcing our launch also into the UK as well because in the UK the acceptance of music as medicine in general is much more advanced, and the reimbursement for it is much more solidified in the system than it is in the US.
So our launch into the UK and SingFit TV, I’d say are a couple of the big new things, and then our platform is relaunching in February and it’s going to have a much… The algorithmic data portion of it is going to be much enhanced.
What are some key takeway messages you would like to leave our audience with today?
Pharmaceuticals are great, but they’re not everything. I think that there’s a lot of ways that we are finding that we can manipulate our neurochemical balance that don’t have to do with taking pharmaceuticals which we’re realizing now. They have all of these awful side and after effects, and so things like music as medicine which includes, but isn’t limited to SingFit can really be used as a womb to hospice sort of solution. Singing when a woman is pregnant helps not only regulate her neurochemical balance for better mental health, but the neurochemical balance in the womb, and it helps structure better brain for the baby.
And so this is all hard science now, whereas 25 years ago when Dr. Oliver Sacks started writing about it, music therapy was considered a little bit more like on the alternative hippie dippy side of medicine, but now it’s really hard science, and it can be used through throughout our lifetimes. And we used to do and sing and play music a lot more as part of our culture, almost every culture on earth has incorporated regular music making into their society, but technology has now created it so that it’s only the super talented of us who gets to do music. And we really want to reincorporate music as a healthcare tool back into society overall in the same way that good nutrition has.