If you had Parkinson’s disease or had a love one suffering from this debilitating disorder, I am most certain you would want to do anything and everything to maintain your ability to communicate as long as possible. I know I would. So, a group of researchers decided to make a music therapy group specifically for Parkinson’s patients who were experiencing hypokinetic dysarthria and test how using Neurologic Music Therapy techniques could have an impact on their speech. For those of you who do not know specifically what this is, I searched online and found out that it is “Dysarthria associated with disorders of the extrapyramidal motor system resulting in reduction and rigidity of movement, causing monotony of pitch and loudness, reduced stress, and imprecise enunciation of consonants” (https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com). What this means in layman terms is that the muscles, including your tongue, lips and jaw, effect your ability to say words clearly and your voice tone is flat and monotonous. As a practicing music therapist, singing is a great way to exercise these muscles and help improve your speech!
Researchers Azekawa and Lagasse started with seven and ended up with five consistent participants who had previous singing and/or choir experience for this study. Since these members were a part of a Parkinson’s disease support group nearby, transportation did not prove to be an issue with those who did not complete, but sickness did cause two to drop out. Another interesting fact was the researchers recruited participants who had never had music therapy services and they specifically used singing exercises for all treatment. Explicitly, two Neurologic Music Therapy techniques, Vocal Intonation Therapy (VIT) and Therapeutic Singing (TS) designed to target voice control, breath support and targeting certain vowel and consonant sounds through the use of preferred/known music. Pretests determined where the individual scored prior to treatment and then post-test identified results of the therapy. Since the size of the group was so small, the researchers included a number of charts in the report showing maintaining or slight improvements in the areas of “phonation time, vocal quality (Harmonics-to-Noise Ratio and jitter), and articulatory control…[but] vocal quality (shimmer) indicated a decrease in quality” (p. 45). I am not discouraged by these results because I realize that the study only last six weeks. What I am excited about is the request from the participants to continue with the group and the researchers created a free community based program now serving 12 – 18 clients. For me, this represents many things, but primarily that music therapy treatment in the form of singing can be an inviting and fun way for individuals to receive the help they need to cope with the daily challenges they face with the disease process.
If you would like more information on how music therapy is used in Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, please visit www.musictherapy.org or centralohiomusictherapy.com.
Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC
Neurologic Music Therapy Fellow
Central Ohio Music Therapy
Azekawa, M., & Lagassee, B. (2017). Singing exercises for speech and vocal abilities in individuals with hypokinetic dysarthria: A feasibility study. Music Therapy Perspectives (2018) 36:1, pp. 40 – 49.