Community singing may help the voice problems of Parkinson’s patients

The University of Tampere in Finland has launched a unique study to investigate whether singing can ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease transforms the voice by muffling it, making it more monotonous, while articulation also becomes inaccurate. These changes undermine the patient’s social relationships and quality of life.

A group that uses singing methods will meet eight times during the autumn of 2018. The group, formed of patients from different parts of Finland, is led by Kaisa Tienvieri, a choir leader who is writing her thesis on music pedagogy at Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

The aim of the study is to discover whether it is possible to develop a new method of rehabilitation that would be both cheaper and more readily available than speech therapy.

Singing exerts the same muscles as talking, but in a more efficient and versatile way. In addition, singing enables the use of song-induced emotions and energy, which can enhance the functioning of the patient’s speech organs. The musculature of Parkinson’s patients is healthy in itself, but the disease causes insufficient regulation of muscle activity.

The study also assesses whether the effectiveness of rehabilitation can be improved through cognitive behavioural therapy. In addition, the plan is to develop and test an activity tracker-type application that gives feedback on voice intensity and the patient’s communication activity.

“If the study shows that singing strengthens the volume and increases the prosodic features of speech – such as intonation, stress and rhythm – or improves sound quality, research on singing can continue, which may eventually lead to changes in the recommendations on the disease management of Parkinson’s disease,” says Nelly Penttilä, senior lecturer of logopedics at the University of Tampere.

The project aims to deepen the understanding of how culture generates well-being and enhances quality of life.

“When we are discussing the well-being effects of culture, the issue is not about bringing culture to everyday life from above. Instead, it is important to take into account people’s agency, life history, wishes, and the course of their everyday lives. Creativity can be combined in many ways with everyday activities, and it is ultimately the most important factor for improving quality of life,” says Tarja Rautiainen-Keskustalo, professor of music studies at the University of Tampere.

The three-year study includes researchers and practitioners from logopedics, psychology, music studies, music education, signal processing, and interactive technology from the University of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology and Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

The results from the first period of study will be published in the spring of 2019.

Tarja Rautiainen-Keskustalo, professor of music studies, tel. +358 40 190 9809,
Leena Rantala, lecturer of logopedics, tel. +358 50 318 6193,