Workshops at UAMS Target Neurodegenerative Disorders

Music classes in Arkansas open to those with Parkinson's and similar diseases

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by Mary Chapman |

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This illustration shows a person listening to music while wearing headphones.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is offering  complimentary vocal music workshops to patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

The workshops, which begin Oct. 26, will address patients’ physical, cognitive, and emotional needs, and are designed to teach patients how the voice works, how to control their breath, and how to exercise the vocal apparatus. No singing or musical experience is necessary.

Funded through a 2021 UAMS Chancellor’s Circle grant, the classes will be led by trained musician Patty Oeste of Arts Integration Services in coordination with the UAMS Movement Disorders Clinic.

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“This opportunity to explore vocal music can help patients process the physical and mental challenges they face,” according to a UAMS press release.

In addition to Parkinson’s patients, the classes are open to those with disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, and Lewy body dementia, as well as their caregivers.

While Parkinson’s is known largely for its movement-related symptoms, nearly 90% of patients also develop trouble with swallowing, breathing, and speaking. This is due to weakness in the muscles that control those functions.

Researchers are exploring how singing can help Parkinson’s patients with physical aspects of the disease. For example, scientists at Iowa State University are studying whether four months of group singing can improve swallowing and breathing in Parkinson’s patients. Also, a recent small study reported that a one-hour singing session significantly mitigated problems with walking, posture, and tremors in adults with Parkinson’s.

The UAMS classes came about after Parkinson’s patients enrolled in ongoing art and cooking workshops asked for more opportunities to experience emotional stimulation and social interaction, said Suzanne J. Dhall, a research associate in the College of Medicine neurology department, which runs the clinic.

People with neurodegenerative disorders are encouraged to take as many workshops as they wish. Classes will be held noon to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Room G1180-1190, at 629 Jack Stephens Drive in Little Rock. Workshop dates this year are Oct. 26, Nov. 2 and 16, and Dec. 7 and 21. Dates in 2023 are Jan. 4 and 18, March 1 and 15, April 5 and 19, May 3 and 17, and June 7 and 21.

Register by sending an email to Dhall at [email protected], or by phoning or texting her at 602–635–0739.