Singing the best medicine for Parkinson’s sufferers

Sing to Beat Parkinson's participants. Image courtesy of Canterbury Cantata Trust.

They say laughter is the best medicine, but researchers at Griffith are looking at whether singing may be able to help improve the lives of Parkinson’s sufferers.

Researchers at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre are launching a 6-month project to evaluate whether singing can help improve the communication skills and mental outlook of people with Parkinson’s Disease.

They are calling for people with Parkinson’s and their carers to join weekly singing groups at South Bank and North Lakes.

The South Bank singing group will be led by Queensland Conservatorium vocal guru Dr Irene Bartlett, who has mentored star graduates like Dami Im and Katie Noonan.

“There will be movement and we’ll also do breath connection exercises, as many patients suffer from weaker voice production,” she said.

“We’ll make sure that they are singing songs that they enjoy and ask them to share their memories of each piece of music.

“We want to build that sense of community, as people can become isolated with Parkinson’s.

A specially designed program, Sing to Beat Parkinson’s, has been developed in the UK by the Canterbury Cantata Trust.  For the first time, Griffith is trialling the project in Australia, China and South Korea.

The project will evaluate the benefits of this specially developed singing program on the quality of life, well-being and communication for people with Parkinson’s.

Researchers will measure and investigate any changes that take place in the participants over that time.

Project Director, Professor Donald Stewart, has spent many years investigating the benefits of community-based singing groups.

“The Sing to Beat Parkinson’s project will provide us with good evidence to show if group singing can be a beneficial adjunct therapy for people with Parkinson’s.”

Research fellow Dr Yoon Irons, who is also a music therapist, believes in the healing power of song.

“I’m a singer and I believe singing can be a medicine and it can change lives,” she said.

“When you sing, it engages your breathing, your vocal cords, your facial muscles and memory – so many areas of the brain are being stimulated and reconnected.”

The Sing to Beat Parkinson’s project is part of the Music, Health and Wellbeing focus of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre.

Interested participants should contact the QCRC on 3735 6335 or qcrc@griffith.edu.au.