Singing uses the same muscles associated with swallowing and respiratory control – two functions complicated by Parkinson's disease, which can lead to death. Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, leads a class for people with Parkinson’s, that steers them through a series of vocal exercises and songs. Stegemöller's research has shown singing significantly improves the muscle activity necessary for control of speech and swallowing. The results are published in the journals Disability and Rehabilitation and Complementary Therapies in Medicine. "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", said Stegemöller.
Jackie Manatt started attending the class two years ago. A love of music is not the reason she keeps coming back every week – research is her primary motivation. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 13 years ago, she wants to help advance the science and understanding of the disease, which is exactly why Stegemöller started the singing class. In return, Manatt has noticed improvements in how she projects with singing and speaking.
"I don't have much volume in my voice, which is very normal with Parkinson's," Manatt said. "I just keep thinking I would probably have even less volume by now if I hadn't taken this singing class."
Participants, their caregivers and families have noticed other benefits. Stegemöller says they have reported changes related to stress, mood and depression. Stegemöller has received a grant from the GRAMMY Foundation to study these acute effects and see if there is measurable improvement over time. STAY TUNED!