Calgary program aims to help ‘long COVID’ patients manage symptoms

A Calgary respiratory physiotherapist is launching a free new program to aid Albertans suffering from COVID-19 symptoms months later

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A Calgary respiratory physiotherapist is launching a free program to aid Albertans still suffering from debilitating symptoms of COVID-19 weeks or months after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Jessica DeMars is looking to recruit Albertans for a virtual, eight-week pilot of the program, called Breath, Speak, Pace.

It’s an adaptation of an existing program DeMars has helped to run for the last four years, adjusted to help those living with ‘long COVID.’

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 35 per cent of patients who were symptomatic with COVID-19 don’t fully recover in the weeks after their infection. The phenomenon extends even to young adults with no underlying health conditions.

“I know they experience breathlessness with talking and they experience voice issues,” said DeMars, the owner and operator of Breathe Well Physio in Calgary, whose practice has focused on helping those with breathing problems for years.


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“This program will have specific information being delivered to people that’s relevant to people living with long COVID, as well as specific breathing and voice exercises we feel they’ll be able to tolerate and won’t impact their fatigue but also give them strategies to be more efficient in speaking and breathing.”

The initiative is funded by The Lung Association of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. It will aim to provide emerging information on how best to handle the disease, which has impacted the ability of some to function normally.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has spoken previously about long-term effects from COVID, stressing prolonged health impacts from the virus affect “a significant number” of those infected.

No cure has emerged for the relatively new condition, but DeMars said she hopes the therapies involved in the program can help improve the quality of life of those living through it.

“It’s giving them the strategies to help manage it,” she said. “By no means do we expect that this is going to solve all of their problems. Long COVID is very complex. There’s many things we don’t understand from a cellular level.”

Working alongside DeMars on the program is Calgary voice teacher Rachel Goldenberg, whose professional and academic work focuses in part on using singing and other voice skills for respiratory therapy.

The chronic breathlessness seen in long COVID patients can be treated in a similar way, she said.


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“A lot of the principles behind managing the breath for people living with lung disease are very similar to what we do in singing,” Goldenberg said.

“One thing we’re hearing from people experiencing long COVID is they have difficulties getting through long sentences without coughing, and it might actually impact their return to work.”

Though Goldenberg uses singing as a therapy for more general patients, the new program will focus on skills to co-ordinate breathing with speaking due to these difficulties.

Those strategies include adjusting the pace of speaking, breathing more frequently or producing resonance in a different way.

“Voice is a real quality-of-life issue, and it’s something you don’t really think about until you don’t have it anymore,” Goldenberg said.

DeMars and Goldenberg are recruiting eight Albertans for the program, with plans to then analyze the results of the pilot and secure more funding to further expand it.

Those interested in participating can contact DeMars at A screening process is in place to ensure the program is appropriate for the applicants, she said.

Twitter: @jasonfherring


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