Group singing helps people with Parkinson’s and their spouses

Program aiming for better speech gives couples a welcome shared experience

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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A close-up of woman expressing herself with a big smile on her face.

Participating in a group singing program can help with speaking ability and emotional well-being for people with Parkinson’s disease, as well as foster better relationships between patients and their spouses, a new study highlights.

“Our findings extend previous research on group singing in PD [Parkinson’s disease] by looking in more depth at the perceptions over time for each couple, highlighting a benefit to their relationship through the intervention,” the researchers wrote in the study, “It’s quite good fun: A qualitative study of a singing/songwriting programme for people with Parkinson’s disease and their spouses.” It was published in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders.

Programs using group singing have shown a range of benefits for people with Parkinson’s, from helping to improve speech and boost life quality, to even helping to ease movement problems.

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Interviews with couples in once weekly Parkinson’s singing program

Research into these types of programs generally focus on the experience of the person with Parkinson’s. Here, a trio of scientists in Australia investigated how a group singing/songwriting program might benefit couples where one spouse has Parkinson’s and the other does not.

Their study included four people with Parkinson’s, two men and two women, and their spouses, who participated in a weekly and free singing/songwriting program at a hospital in Western Australia. The participants were routinely interviewed to assess their experiences, and the researchers summarized overarching themes that emerged from these discussions.

The patients reported numerous benefits, from a better vocal quality to fostering a more positive emotional state and helping them fight off feelings of depression.

“Whether your voice is strong or weak, at the end of the day when you sing, it’s always strong,” one patient remarked.

“You can get quite down and depressed which can be part of the symptoms of PD or part of PD because it’s like ‘Why have I got this? And this is going to get worse’ … which can lead to depression. And singing would get you out of that,” another said. “Enjoying something and having a laugh instead of thinking poor me.”

Some patients also said the program helped in forming social connections with others with Parkinson’s, allowing them to feel less alone and more comfortable in their identity as someone living with the disease.

“We all have different issues in our lives and with our spouses. And you think you are the only one going through certain things. But when you hear that someone else … what they are going through, that’s really good. To know that you are not alone, you don’t feel alone,” one patient said.

“It doesn’t matter what you do because we all are singing the same tune and are on the same page and if someone’s out of tune or if someone forgets the words, there’s someone down in the row that’s doing exactly the same. So, you can just be yourself,” said another.

Selected songs are ‘all about joy, about discovery, and living life to the full’

As part of the program, participants were asked to help write a song and to nominate two songs reminding them of their own life experiences to share with the group. Patients saw these as especially helpful parts of the program.

“It was very nice that you get to choose a song and tell your story — the reason for choosing it. It puts a value on you. To say you are also somebody. You also got your choices,” one patient said.

The researchers noted that, with respect to the songwriting portion, “not only was the song an exercise to use language and music creatively, but the group chose to write about new, young love. This focus, and the choice of a dance rhythm and major key, were all about joy, about discovery, and living life to the full.”

Participants also reported that the program helped them to feel happier with their spouses as a couple.

“It most definitely had helped with our relationship,” said the wife of one patient. “Just for one day of the week we share that together, as for him and for me. It’s his thing and our thing. And I can show that I support him by coming. We get a lot out of it.”

Spouses reported that the program also served as an opportunity to take a break from the responsibilities of being a caregiver, while providing a fun way to connect and share with their partner.

“He’s all excited about choir so we will chat about that, and we will talk about music. We’re more chatty. So, we as a couple are happier after choir,” said one spouse. “And as the days of the week go past, we are still looking at music and getting out old records and playing old songs and going on Google and reminiscing about the songs.”

Likewise, “coming to the singing allows me to have ‘my time,’” another said. “I like to sit at the café downstairs and enjoy my coffee while reading a book.”

This study was limited by its small size, so the results may not be generalizable to everyone, the researchers said. Still, its findings help to extend earlier research into how singing programs can benefit not just people with Parkinson’s, but also their partners.