Singing may benefit Parkinson’s patients

Singing may reduce stress levels in people with Parkinson's disease, study says

Engaging in a music therapy-based singing can significantly improve voice, respiratory control, and swallow while enhancing quality of life for persons with Parkinson’s disease.

Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, says singing is beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease. In fact, her research shows it strengthens the muscles associated with swallowing and respiratory control.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms show tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

The study presented at the on-going society for neuroscience 2018 conference revealed improvements in mood and motor symptoms, as well as reduced physiological indicators of stress.

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Stegemöller, says the improvements among singing participants are similar to benefits of taking medication.

Researchers measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels for 17 participants in a therapeutic singing group. Participants also reported feelings of sadness, anxiety, happiness and anger. Data was collected prior to and following a one-hour singing session.

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“We see the improvement every week when they leave singing group. It’s almost like they have a little pep in their step. We know they’re feeling better and their mood is elevated,” Stegemöller said. “Some of the symptoms that are improving, such as finger tapping and the gait, don’t always readily respond to medication, but with singing they’re improving.”

Why does singing work?

Researchers are now analyzing blood samples to measure levels of oxytocin (a hormone related to bonding), changes in inflammation (an indicator of the progression of the disease) and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to compensate for injury or disease) to determine if these factors can explain the benefits of singing.

Previous research has found that various forms of artistic therapy can benefit different health conditions, with creative pursuits such as drawing, coloring, and clay modelling found to reduce stress, and a 2015 study suggesting that music therapy as part of can increase relaxation and reduce fatigue.

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