Singing towards a better life with Parkinson’s disease

According to Parkinson’s Australia, there are more than 100,000 with Parkinson’s in Australia with 37 new cases diagnosed each day.

People diagnosed with Parkinson’s not only suffer its debilitating physical effects but must also cope with significant impacts on mental health and well being due to living with an incurable condition.

Parkinson’s has a higher incidence in older people and while many have heard of it, few understand the implications for both people with the disease, and their caregivers and loved ones.

Australia’s ageing population will see more people with Parkinson’s, hence the importance of finding community-based programs to support those who may live with the disease for many years.

University of Southern Queensland researcher and Senior lecturer in the School of Creative Arts Dr Melissa Forbes worked with the local Toowoomba Parkinson’s support group to establish a singing group known as 'Park ‘n Songs.'

'The quality of life and their well-being was improved by being part of singing together as a group,' Dr Melissa Forbes.

The group, which is facilitated and accompanied by a graduate of the USQ School of Creative Arts music program, encourages Parkinson’s Diseases sufferers and their carers to attend a weekly singing session. Other community musicians and volunteers also support the group.

The group was established in 2017 and regularly has between 20 and 30 people in attendance, made up of both people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers.

While the physiological impacts of singing are well known, including lifts in oxytocin levels which encourage group bonding, Dr Forbes said her studies had shown there were even broader benefits.

The Toowoomba 'Park ‘n Songs' group participated in an international research project which showed that singing group members felt less stigmatised about having the disease, and had lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

More recently, Dr Forbes’ research has focused on the caregivers in the group, who join in the singing to support their loved ones.

'Singing in a group gives caregivers a sense of social identity, a sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves. This helps satisfy basic psychological need for caregivers including a sense of meaning and belonging, social support and a stronger sense of agency – that they were more in control of their lives, particularly in their marriage to a person with Parkinson’s.'

The group provides an often much-needed social outing, but also the capacity for spouses to see each other in the same way they did before the disease was diagnosed. Caregivers can look across a room and see those they care for enjoying the singing or having a chat with others in the group.

'I'm incredibly proud of our group, and what they've achieved together through the simple act of singing.'
Dr Melissa Forbes
Dr Forbes' next research project is looking at the people who facilitate these groups and the ways in which they create such wonderful well being outcomes for our group members. These facilitators are highly skilled and valuable community arts workers and Dr Forbes is dedicated to raising the profile of these facilitators, because of their important work in our communities.

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