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Singing can reduce stress, improve motor function for people with Parkinson's disease

Elizabeth Stegemöller leads a vocal group for people with Parkinson's disease. Her latest research shows that the song can lower…

Elizabeth Stegemöller leads a vocal group for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her latest research shows that the song can lower stress and improve engine symptoms. Credit: Iowa State University

Song can provide benefits in addition to improving breathing and swallowing control of people with Parkinson’s disease, according to new data from researchers at Iowa State University.

The results of the pilot study revealed improvements in mood and motor symptoms and reduced physiological indicators of stress. Elizabeth Stegemöller, a professor of kinesiology, warns that this is preliminary data, but says that the improvements among singing participants are similar to the benefits of taking medication. She presented the work at the Conference Society for Neuroscience 201


“We see improvement every week when they leave a group of singles. It’s almost as if they have a little pep in their steps. We know they feel better and their mood is elevated, Stegemöller said. “Some of the symptoms that are improved, such as fingertips and walkway, do not always respond easily to medication, but with song they are improved.”

Stegemöller, Elizabeth “Birdie” Shirtcliff, a professor of Human Development Family Studies, and Andrew Zaman, a doctoral student in kinesiology, measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels for 17 participants in a therapeutic vocal group. Participants also reported feelings of sadness, anxiety, happiness and anger. Data gathered before and after an hour’s session.

This is one of The first studies to see how singing affects heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol in people with Parkinson’s disease. All three levels mi was requested, but Stegemöller said with the preliminary data that the measures had not reached statistical significance. There were no significant differences in happiness or anger after class. However, the participants were less anxious and sad.

Why does work sing?

The results are encouraging, but researchers still have a big question to deal with: Which mechanism leads to these behavioral changes? They are now analyzing blood samples to measure levels of oxytocin (a hormone related to binding), changes in inflammation (an indicator of disease progression) and neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to compensate for injury or disease) to determine whether these factors can explain the benefits of sing.

“Part of the reason that the cortisol goes down may be because the singers feel positive and less stressful in the song with others in the group. This suggests that we can look at binding hormone oxytocin,” says Shirtcliff. “We also look at heart rate and heart rate variation, which can tell us how calm and physiologically relaxed the individual is after singing.”

The research is based on the team’s previous findings as singing is an effective treatment for improving the respiratory system control and the muscles used to swallow in people with Parkinson’s disease. The spread of Parkinson’s disease is expected to double over the next 20 years. ISU researchers say that therapeutic singing has the potential to provide an accessible and affordable treatment option to improve motor symptoms, stress and quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease.

In this video from 2017, Stegemöller leads a singing group for people with Parkinson’s disease:

Explore further:
Singing can be a good medicine for patients with Parkinson’s disease

Provided by:
Iowa State University

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