August 22, 2017
Singing helps improve muscles that control swallowing and respiratory processes. The inability to swallow is a leading cause of death for people with Parkinson's disease (file photo)
Muscles worked in singing also are used during swallowing and respiratory functions
Participants who attended the classes reported it significantly helped their throat muscles that had declined due to Parkinson's
Four cities in Iowa now offer these classes for those with the disease
Singing could significantly improve the swallowing muscles for people with Parkinson's disease.
An inability to swallow is one of the leading causes of death for people suffering from the disease because the muscles in the mouth and throat significantly weaken.
And delaying the decline of these muscles would dramatically increase the life expectancy for sufferers.
Experts from Iowa State University created music therapy classes to help people with Parkinson's work muscles that tend to stiffen as the disease progresses.
Participants in the classes showed a significant improvement in the muscles used for swallowing and respiratory function after actively attending.
Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, holds weekly music therapy sessions for people with Parkinson's disease.
The muscles in the throat that are used when singing are also interacted during swallowing and respiratory processes.
'We're not trying to make people better singers,' Stegemöller said.
'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.'
Stegemöller's classes have made an improvement in the lives of people suffering from Parkinson's who attended.
Participants in the music therapy classes said the singing has also helped them project their voice better, a skill that declines as the disease progresses.
'We do a lot of vocal exercises in classes that focus on those muscles,' Stegemöller said.
'We also talk about 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.'
The classes are serving as a dual purpose for research and outreach to help improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson's.
Stegemöller has seen so many positive responses about her music therapy classes that she created a DVD so others could implement them.
'The goal is to expand this singing initiative,' Stegemöller said. 'If the DVD is an effective training tool, we'd like to have as many classes as possible across the state.'
She collaborated with Iowa State Extension and Outreach to help create the DVD that trains other specialists to form classes of their own.
Stegemöller found through her initial study that these classes could also help with stress, depression and mood for people dealing with Parkinson's.
The program has grown from only being in the city of Ames, Iowa, to also being in Waverly, Des Moines and Storm Lake.
The music therapy classes are funded through a GRAMMY Foundation grant.