Singing can provide benefits beyond improving breathing control and swallowing people with Parkinson's disease, according to new data from researchers at the University of Iowa.
The results of the pilot study showed improvements in mood and motor symptoms as well as reduced physiological stress indicators. Elizabeth Stegemöller, assistant professor of kinesiology, warns that this is preliminary data, but says improvements among singing participants are similar to the benefits of taking medication. She was presenting her work at the Society of Neuroscience in 2018.
"Every week we see improvement when they leave the singing group, almost as if they have a little bit of a step, we know they feel better and their mood has increased," Stegemöller said. "Some of the symptoms that improve, such as finger tapping and walking, are not always easy to respond to medications, but with chatter they improve."
Stegemöller, Elizabeth "Birdie" Shirtcliff, Associate Professor in Family Studies on Human Rights Development; and Andrew Zaman, a graduate student of kinesiology, measured heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels for 17 participants in the Therapeutic Singing Group. Participants also reported about feelings of sadness, anxiety, happiness, and anger. Data was collected before and after one-hour singing.
This is one of the first studies to determine how singing affects the number of heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol in Parkinson's patients. All three levels have been reduced, but Stegemöller says with preliminary data that the measures did not reach statistical significance. There were no significant differences in happiness or anger after class. However, the participants were less anxious and sad.
Why does singing work?
The results are encouraging, but researchers still have a big question to resolve: what is the mechanism leading to these behavioral changes? They now analyze blood samples for measuring the levels of oxytocin (conjunctival hormones), changes in inflammation (disease progression indicator), and neuroplasticity (brain ability to compensate for injury or disease) to determine these factors can explain the benefits of chanting.
"Part of the reason why cortisol reduces could be because the participants sing positive and less stress in singing with others in the group, indicating that we can see the binding hormone, oxytocin," said Shirtcliff. "We also look at the speed of heart rate and heart rate variability, which can tell us how calm and physiologically relaxed the individual after singing."
The research is based on previous findings by the team that singing is an effective treatment for improving respiratory control and muscle used to swallow people with Parkinson's disease. It is expected that the prevalence of Parkinson's disease will double over the next 20 years. ISU researchers claim that therapeutic chanting can provide accessible and accessible treatment options to enhance the motor symptoms, stress and quality of life of people with Parkinson's disease.
In this video from 2017, Stegemöller leads a singing group for people with Parkinson's Disease:
Singing can be a good cure for Parkinson's patients