In Parkinson’s patients, singing may help improve mood and motor symptoms and reduce physiological indicators of stress, according to the preliminary findings of a new pilot study at Iowa State University (ISU).
The research, presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2018 conference, builds upon the team’s previous findings that singing is an effective treatment to improve respiratory control and the muscles used for swallowing in Parkinson’s patients.
Elizabeth Stegemöller, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, says that although the findings are preliminary, the improvements among singing participants are similar to the benefits seen with medication.
“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,” Stegemöller said.
“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.”
Stegemöller conducted the study with Elizabeth “Birdie” Shirtcliff, an associate professor in human development family studies, and Andrew Zaman, a graduate student in kinesiology. The team measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels for 17 participants in a therapeutic singing group.
Participants self-reported any 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. Although all three levels were reduced among patients in the study, Stegemöller says the preliminary data does not reach statistical significance. And while there were no significant differences in happiness or anger after class, participants were less anxious and sad.
The findings are encouraging, but researchers still have a big question to tackle: What is the mechanism leading to these behavioral changes?
The team is now analyzing 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.
“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,” Shirtcliff said.
“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 prevalence of Parkinson’s disease is expected to double over the next 20 years. The researchers say therapeutic singing can be an accessible, affordable treatment option to help improve motor symptoms, stress and quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Source: Iowa State University
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