Use of the Didgeridoo to manage asthma in Indigenous adults, teenagers and children

Project summary

Asthma is a chronic disease affecting an estimated 15% of Australian children and 11% of adults. The incidence of asthma is higher in Indigenous populations. The playing of musical instruments or singing has been shown to be effective in the management of asthma.

Two studies undertaken in 2007 and 2009 offered music lessons to Indigenous asthmatics in a junior school and a senior school, an Aboriginal Medical Service and a community centre. Males were taught the didgeridoo and females singing and clap sticks. Associated activities of painting and boomerang throwing were offered. At regular intervals participants were assessed for their asthma status.

At completion participants reported on the benefits of the study. Excellent retention occurred in Study 1 for adolescents and junior males but was poor for junior females and adults. Contributory factors to retention were parental and school support for minors and other health factors for adults. Respiratory function improved in males and both males and females reported increased well being.

In Study 2 retention of all participants was excellent. In addition there was increased engagement of both participants and their families with medical services.

In both studies awareness of asthma and compliance with asthma management plans increased. Social skills improved as did cultural awareness.

It has been concluded that the offering of music lessons is a culturally appropriate and enjoyable intervention to promote asthma, general health awareness and engagement with medical services.

This project was funded by the Asthma Foundation of Australia, Targeted Intervention Grant.

Project team

The project team is: Dr Rob Eley (Project Manager)  Professor Don Gorman, Ms Karen Brosnan, Dr John Williams-Mozley and Ms Jane Gately.