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Parkinson's disease symptoms improve with singing, study finds

ABC Health logoABC Health 11/02/2018
a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by ABC Health

They say laughter is the best medicine, but singing is just as good, according to a group of people with Parkinson's disease who took part in an Australian first trial.

More than 70 patients from Queensland participated in the ground-breaking Griffith University study that looked at how song could help battle the disease.

Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition that affects speech and movement, and there is no cure.

Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre's Professor Don Stewart said it did not matter if they could hold a note or not, they just had to commit to "trying" to sing for an hour once a week for six months.

Professor Don Stewart found all participants experienced a better quality of life during the trial.

"But in particular one that stands out is stigma or perceived stigma for example where people felt they had to conceal their Parkinson's from others or avoid situations which involve eating or drinking in public," he said.

"They felt less worried about people's reaction to them. Felt less embarrassed," he said.

The group held their first Australian concert at the weekend at the Queensland Conservatorium.

Choir received encore for performance

As part of the performance, the group honoured Neil Diamond, who has just cancelled his 50th anniversary Australian shows in March and April due to a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

The choir got an encore and are planning to perform in public again.

Adrienne Lynch, 77, who lives in Toowoomba, was diagnosed three years ago.

While she admits to not being able to sing in tune, it has not stopped her trying," she said.

First clinic trial of UK developed program

In each session participants not only sang, but did vocal warm ups, breathing exercises and got to take part in social activities afterwards.

The study was based on a UK program called 'Sing to Beat Parkinson's' that had never been clinically tested.

"We set out using the Sing to Beat Parkinson's project to see if we could enhance the quality of life of people with Parkinson's as well as their carers," he said.

"To help reduce their emotional burden, depression, anxiety and stress."

The disease affects about 3 per cent of the Australian population, which is about 700,000 people.

It also strikes more men than women and more frequently presents in people over 50.

Researchers said the next step is to extend the program through Queensland, then the nation.

UK Professor Grenville Hancox, who set up the first "Sing to Beat Parkinsons" group 10 years ago in England, has been involved in the Australian study.

He said the results were ground-breaking because they confirmed all the "anecdotal evidence" he collected, but had never been able to put under the scientific microscope.

Madonna Brady said it helped her battle depression associated with the disease.

"Feeling happy and having something to do. And the songs we have sung are pretty joyful and fun," she said.

Lilian Olszewski said the trial helped her focus on fun things rather than her Parkinson's, which she has battled for 10 years.

Ms Olszewski said the breathing exercises helped control her tremors as well.

While Tom Dawson, who was diagnosed in 2009, maintains the singing has made him feel less anxious.

He also runs a support group through the choir.

Researchers from the US, Europe and Asia attended an international symposium in Brisbane where the results of the study were released.

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