Singing may reduce stress and improve symptoms for people with Parkinson’s disease, suggests a new study.
Belting out a song could provide benefits beyond improving respiratory and swallow control in Parkinson’s patients, according to the research.
The results from a pilot study revealed improvements in mood and motor symptoms, as well as reduced physiological indicators of stress.
Dr Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University in the United States, cautioned that the figures are only preliminary, but says the improvements among singing participants are similar to benefits of taking medication.
She said: “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.
“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.”
Dr Stegemöller, Dr Elizabeth Shirtcliff, an associate professor in human development family studies, and Andrew Zaman, a graduate in kinesiology, measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels for 17 participants in a therapeutic singing group.
The participants also reported feelings of sadness, anxiety, happiness and anger. Data was collected prior to and following a one-hour singing session.
The study is one of the first to look at how singing affects heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol in people with Parkinson’s disease.
All three levels were reduced, but Dr Stegemöller says with the preliminary data the measures did not reach statistical significance. There were no significant differences in happiness or anger after class. However, participants were less anxious and sad.
The researchers say that the results are encouraging, but they still have to find the mechanism leading to the behavioural changes.
They are now analysing 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.
Dr Shirtcliff added: “Part of the reason cortisol is going down could be because the singing participants feel positive and less stress in the act of singing with others in the group.
“This suggests we can look at the bonding hormone, oxytocin.
“We’re also looking at heart rate and heart rate variability, which can tell us how calm and physiologically relaxed the individual is after singing.”
The research builds on the team’s previous findings that singing is an effective treatment to improve respiratory control and the muscles used for swallowing in people with Parkinson’s disease.
The prevalence of Parkinson’s disease is expected to double over the next 20 years.
The researchers, who presented their findings at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference in California, say therapeutic singing has the potential to provide an accessible and affordable treatment option for people with Parkinson’s disease.