19 January 2018

Bay of Plenty initiative provides ground breaking research

A BOPDHB initiative, the Brainwave Singers is providing ground breaking research on the benefit of singing to improve speech for people living with Parkinson's disease. 

Speech and Language Therapist Robin Matthews developed the choir seven years ago to help people with Parkinson's to improve their speech. He's now completing his PhD on the topic. 

About 1 in 500 people have Parkinson's, a progressive neurodegenerative condition. It's more common with people over the age of 60.  

To date there have been few studies that have looked at singing as a means of improving voice.  Robin's randomised control study measured a number of things including voice volume, voice quality, wellbeing and quality of life. His research found the singers had significant post-treatment improvement in psychological and psychosocial well-being including their levels of stress, anxiety and depression. 

The research also found significant improvement in voice quality of the singers with them sounding less croaky or hoarse. The singer's vocal chord efficiency also improved.  

"We know that singing makes us feel good, now science is discovering how singing can help people suffering from Parkinson's to Aphasia (stroke)." 

"Singing uses different parts of the brain. To sing, you have to remember the tune and words, then fill your lungs with air, produce a voice and then coordinate your voice and breathing whilst singing the melody. For people with Parkinson's, the coordination required helps produce a better, louder voice. 

"For people who have had a stroke; research shows they can regain the ability to talk by learning to sing words they are unable to speak. If the brain's language centres are damaged, neural plasticity - 'rewiring' the brain - may train the part of the brain responsible for singing to take over the speech functions." 

"You don't have to be able to sing, that's not the point," he says. "Anyone who has a  neurological condition such as Parkinson's, stroke or brain injury can join. The group is hugely supportive of one another and therapeutically the experience is very uplifting." 

"It's physiotherapy of the voice; singing as therapy," says Robin. 

Robyn and Margaret

Margaret Ryan (left) who sang with the likes of Shirley Bassey in her younger years, credits Robin Matthews' Brainwave singers with helping her to regain her voice after being locked in silence from a stroke.

James Fuller
Communications Advisor
Bay of Plenty District Health Board

Last updated: August 29, 2018