How singing serenades hope for Parkinson’s patients

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For those with Parkinson’s disease, a prescription for singing may soon be a new form of therapy for the early stages of this condition.  No worries if you have nowhere near the musical talents of a Broadway star, just simply singing for 60 minutes once a week, no matter how off key you may sound, can show significant improvements in reducing certain symptoms of Parkinson’s.

New study

This news is from two studies from researchers at Iowa State University.  The first study was published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine while the second study was published in Disability and Rehabilitation.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.  Almost one million Americans live with the disease which has no known cause or cure. Current treatments largely focus on symptoms that relate to motor skills and very little on the symptoms affecting voice impairment.  Voice impairment would include someone with the disease developing weakness in their vocal muscles which will affect their respiration, swallowing abilities and quality of life.  Up to 60% to 80% of people with Parkinson’s will have some sort of voice impairment which shows up as reduced vocal intensity, pitch, and a breathy-sounding voice.

Study methods

What interested researchers in singing as a form of therapy was from previous research that had suggested that singing can help voice impairment and improve respiratory control.  When a person sings, it uses the same muscles as swallowing and breathing control, two functions affected by Parkinson’s disease.  The theory was that singing could significantly improve this muscle activity.

To test this theory out, two separate pilot studies involving 25 Parkinson’s patients had light therapy of singing for 60 minutes once a week while the second study had more intensive therapy of singing for 60 minutes twice a week.  During the sessions, music therapists helped the patients on vocal and articulation exercises as well as group singing.  The goal was not to make the patients sing better but rather to work the muscles involved in swallowing and respiratory control to help reduce complications of swallowing.

Study results

Eight weeks later, each participant had their vocal, respiratory and quality-of-life parameters measured.  Found was both groups had significant improvement in respiratory pressure, including both breathing in and breathing out.  Another aspect found to be significantly improved was phonation time which is how long a person can sustain a vowel sound. 

Another area that showed vast improvement for each patient was voice-related and whole health-related quality of life.

The goal from the results of this study is to expand this research to other areas that can use this information on helping others with this disease.  For more information, visit the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.