Sing to protect swallowing from Parkinson’s

"We're not trying to make people better singers. We're trying to work the muscles involved with swallowing and respiratory control..."

Singing can significantly improve muscle activity associated with swallowing and respiratory control, research finds. The effects of Parkinson’s disease on these functions can lead to death.

Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, holds weekly music therapy classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her clients are even preparing for an upcoming music festival and concert, which highlight the clients’ musical talents, and celebrate the strength they have built through song.

“We’re not trying to make people better singers. We’re trying to work the muscles involved with swallowing and respiratory control, to make them work better and therefore protect against some of the complications of swallowing,” says Stegemöller.

Interest in the singing classes has exceeded what Stegemöller alone can manage, which is why she has created a DVD to train extension specialists.

“The goal is to expand this singing initiative,” Stegemöller says. “If the DVD is an effective training tool, we’d like to have as many classes as possible across the state.”

In addition to extending her outreach, Stegemöller is also building on her research. Through her initial study, she learned singing might provide other benefits related to stress, mood, and depression. Stegemöller and colleagues are conducting follow-up studies testing blood and cortisol levels to see if there is a measurable difference.

Results of Stegemöller’s initial study appear in the journals Disability and Rehabilitation and Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Source: Iowa State University

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