Parkinson's disease

Updated 17 August 2017

Sing like Justin Bieber or even a bullfrog to relieve Parkinson’s

Voice coaching appears to help swallowing and breathing in Parkinson's patients, research finds.

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Singing, whether it's in your local choir or in the safety of your shower, can lower stress and have an overall positive effect on your health. According to a Health24 article, it can even offer relief to those suffering from IBS.

Now research has found that singing can be an effective treatment for Parkinson's disease. And apparently it doesn’t matter if you have a strong voice like Adele, sing a Justin Bieber pop tune, or just croak like a frog – as long as you sing with enthusiasm.

Chronic movement disorder

Parkinson's disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder. According to the South African Medical Journal, nearly 3% of the population over 60 in South Africa suffer from Parkinson's disease and it's more common in men than women. The cause isn't known, and there is no cure at present.

Symptoms can include tremors of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; slowness of movement; limb rigidity; and problems with balance and coordination.

Singing strengthens functional muscles 

Singing uses the same muscles as swallowing and breathing control, two functions affected by Parkinson's disease. Singing significantly improves this muscle activity, according to research by Elizabeth Stegemoller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University.

"We're not trying to make them better singers, but to help them strengthen the muscles that control swallowing and respiratory function," says Stegemoller.

Stegemoller holds a weekly singing therapy class for Parkinson's disease patients. At each session, participants go through a series of vocal exercises and songs.

"We work on proper breath support, posture and how we use the muscles involved with the vocal cords, which requires them to intricately coordinate good, strong muscle activity," she said in a university news release.

Other benefits noted by patients, their families and caregivers include improvements in mood, stress and depression, Stegemoller said. Her research was published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Other treatment methods 

Previous research points out that the cause of Parkinson's disease is different in South Africans compared to Europeans. 

While there is no known cure for Parkinson's disease, there are treatment options such as medication and surgery to manage symptoms, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. These include:

  • Physical therapy to control movement and strengthen muscles.
  • Prescribed medication to control tremors.
  • Relaxation methods such as breathing exercises to control tremors.
  • Surgery to implant electrodes in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Image supplied by Wikimedia Commons.