Singing and Parkinson's

The Alva Academy’s Parkinson’s singing group helps people with the condition better manage their symptoms. We speak to 2 members, Tommy and Maureen, about how the group has benefited them both.

"The most valuable thing I’ve learned is how to breathe properly. It was only when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s that I realised I hadn’t been breathing properly all my life,” says Tommy, who was diagnosed 5 years ago.

He adds: “I’ve always enjoyed singing, but I’m not very good at it. The singing group has made a real difference to my symptoms. So for that alone, I’m very grateful. I enjoy the group and find it really beneficial for my breathing and projecting my voice.”

The singing group brings together local people with Parkinson’s in Clackmannashire in Scotland and pupils from Alva Academy’s choir. Together they explore the benefits that singing can have for people with the condition.

Every Monday, the group meets for a 90-minute session. These begin with breathing exercises and vocal warm-ups. A speech and language therapist and a Parkinson’s nurse has helped the group develop these.

Choir practice

The group is the idea of David, a music teacher at Alva Academy, whose dad has Parkinson’s. With the help of Parkinson’s UK, David has developed strategies that, “...mirror and tie in with what I already knew as a music teacher,” with, “...what will work in terms of potentially helping with Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors and a quieter voice.”

David explains: “We tie in breathing and singing. So with the physical warm-ups, we usually start with the neck down, focusing on posture. Standing with our feet on the floor, we slightly push the chest out, which allows each person take in as much air as possible and helps project their voice.

“We then move on to different breathing exercises and activities like tongue twisters, which are slightly more fun,” he continues.

“We practise as many different techniques and exercises as possible, as everyone has different symptoms, and are at different stages of Parkinson’s. This allows each person to decide what will work best for them.”

Singing has been shown to reduce Parkinson’s symptoms like tremor, and issues with walking and posture. This is because it helps to relax muscles and release tension in the back and neck.

Singing can also help to reduce anxiety and low mood by lowering stress hormones and increases the brain’s ‘feel-good’ chemical (endorphins).

Benefits for all

Maureen is another familiar face at the singing group. She comes along to the sessions with her husband Alan, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago.

Maureen says: “Alan’s voice started getting a little bit raspy and it was very difficult to hear what he was saying.

“The group is helping us with techniques for slowing down speech. This means the words and syllables Alan is pronouncing are clearer and make more sense.

“We meet very interesting people in our group. There’s always things to talk about and new information about Parkinson’s, which we share with each other,” explains Maureen.

“It’s nice to be in a community like that, where everybody’s experiencing the same thing and has the same purpose.”

The singing group has been a positive experience for school pupils and members of the singing group alike.

“I find it very beneficial that pupils in the school choir come along and share their Mondays with us,” says Tommy. “We feed off each other. It’s really quite amazing how the younger folks put up with the old fogies like us!”