In Parkinson's patients, singing can help improve mood and motor symptoms and reduce physiological stress indicators, according to preliminary findings from a new pilot study at Iowa State University (ISU).
The study, presented at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference, was based on the findings of the previous team that singing is an effective treatment for improving breathing and muscle control used to swallow in Parkinson's patients.
Elizabeth Stegemöller, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, said that although her findings were still preliminary, improvements among participants who sang were similar to the benefits seen with treatment.
"We see an increase every week when they leave the group singing. It was almost like they had a little enthusiasm in their steps. We know they feel better and their moods improve, "said Stegemöller.
"Some symptoms that improve, such as finger beats and gait, are not always ready to respond to drugs, but with singing they increase."
Stegemöller conducts research with Elizabeth "Birdie" Shirtcliff, a professor in human family development studies, and Andrew Zaman, a graduate student in the field of kinesiology. The team measured heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels for 17 participants in the therapeutic singing group.
Participants report themselves feelings of sadness, anxiety, happiness and anger. Data was collected before and after a one-hour singing session.
This research is one of the first to see 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 said the preliminary data did not reach statistical significance. And while there were no significant differences in happiness or anger after class, participants were less anxious and sad.
This finding is encouraging, but researchers still have big questions to deal with: What is the mechanism that leads to this behavior change?
The team is now analyzing blood samples to measure levels of oxytocin (hormone related to bonds), changes in inflammation (indicators of disease progression) and neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to compensate for injury or disease) to determine whether these factors can explain the benefits of singing.
"Part of the reason why cortisol drops is because participants who sing feel positive and less stressed in the act of singing with other people in the group. This shows we can see the bond hormone, oxytocin, "Shirtcliff said.
"We also looked at heart rate and heart rate variability, which can tell us how calm and physiologically individual relaxes after singing."
The prevalence of Parkinson's disease is expected to double in the next 20 years. Researchers say singing therapy can be an affordable and affordable treatment option to help improve motoric symptoms, stress and quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease.
Source: Iowa State University