In Parkinson's patients, the song can help improve mood and motor symptoms and reduce physiological stress indicators, according to the preliminary results of a new pilot study at Iowa State University (ISU).
The research, presented at the Conference Society for Neuroscience 2018, is based on the team's previous discoveries that singing is an effective treatment for improving breathing regulation and the muscles used to swallow in Parkinson's patients.
Elizabeth Stegemöller, professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, says that although the results are preliminary, the improvements among the singers are equal to the benefits of medication.
"We see improvement every week when they leave a group of singles. It's almost as if they have a little pep in their steps. We know they feel better and their mood is elevated," says Stegemöller.
"Some of the symptoms that are improved, such as fingertips and walkway, do not always respond easily to the medicine, but with song they are improved."
Stegemöller conducted the study with Elizabeth "Birdie" Shirtcliff, a university lecturer in human development family studies, and Andrew Zaman, a Ph.D. student in kinesiology. The team measured heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels for 17 participants in a therapeutic vocal group.
The participants reported themselves feelings of sorrow, anxiety, happiness and anger. Data was collected before and after an hour of sessions.
The study is one of the first to look at how the song 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 that the preliminary data did not reach statistical significance. And while there were no significant differences in happiness or anger after class, the participants were less anxious and sad.
The results are encouraging, but researchers still have a big question to deal with: Which mechanism leads to these behavioral changes?
The team is now analyzing blood samples to measure levels of oxytocin (a hormone related to binding), changes in inflammation (an indicator of disease progression) and neuroplasticity (brain's ability to compensate for injury or disease) to determine whether these factors can explain the benefits of sing.
"Part of the reason that the cortisol is down may be because the singing participants feel positive and less stressful in the song with others in the group. This suggests that we can look at the binding hormone, oxytocin," says Shirtcliff.
"We also look at heart rate and heart rate variability, which can tell us how calm and physiologically relaxed the individual is after sailing."
The spread of Parkinson's disease is expected to double over the next 20 years. The researchers say that therapeutic singing can be an accessible, affordable treatment option that helps improve symptoms, stress and quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease.
Source: Iowa State University