Singing can improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, study finds

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People suffering from Parkinson’s disease can sing themselves better, research suggests.

A pilot study found that singing therapy led to fewer involuntary movements, improvements in mood, and less stress.

Researchers warned that the early findings should be treated with caution, but said the benefits to patients matched those from taking medication.

Dr Elizabeth Stegemoller, from Iowa State University in the US, 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.”

Parkinson’s disease causes progressive loss of motor control, leading to uncontrollable shaking, rigidity, slow movement and difficulty walking.

Thinking and behavioural problems may also occur.

Each year, around 145,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

The disease is linked to insufficient levels of the brain chemical dopamine, but its causes are still poorly understood. Genetic and environmental factors are both thought to play a role.

Dr Stegemoller’s team studied 17 Parkinson’s patients enrolled into a therapeutic singing group.

Measurements were taken of participants’ heart rate, blood pressure and levels of cortisol stress hormone.

All three readings were reduced by singing, but not by an amount that reached statistical significance.

The researchers are looking at the possible effects of singing on inflammation, neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to rewire itself to compensate for injury or disease – and blood levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin.

Dr Elizabeth Shirtcliff, also from Iowa State, said: “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.”

Previous work by the same team found that singing can improve respiratory control and swallowing ability in Parkinson’s patients.

The research was presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2018 meeting in San Diego.

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