Friday, 1 April 2016

Expressive Singing In Parkinson's Disease

By: Esztella Vezer 

Based on the findings of a novel study that our lab conducted last year, last June we set up a choir exclusively for people with Parkinson’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disease that affects the muscles of the body, including the face and vocal cords. Through emotionally expressive singing, the choir is specialized to target facial expressiveness and vocal deficits that are so common in Parkinson’s, and our research team is currently tracking improvements in these areas. The first term of the choir ended in early September, but its popularity and impact motivated everyone involved to help keep it going. With several fundraising performances by the choir, the generosity of donors enabled us to keep the choir singing into the fall and winter, and there are exciting plans to expand the program even further. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Seniors Improving Neurocognitive Goals through Song (SINGS): Teaching your brain to hear better while learning how to sing.

By: Ella Dubinsky

   As we age, most adults experience some degree of hearing loss. Although hearing aids can be used to amplify sound, many adults suffering from normal age-related declines simply learn to live with this impairment. One issue that both aided and un-aided older adults experience is a difficulty tracking speech in a noisy environment, making it hard to hear one person talking in a crowded room. This has been linked to an age-related degradation of the neural mechanisms with which the brain encodes auditory signals; basically, as we age, our brains get worse at processing what we’re hearing, making it harder to distinguish a relevant voice from background noise. This can make it harder for aging adults to participate in group conversations and social events, which can lead to feelings of isolation and emotional withdrawal. As such, finding a way to help people preserve and regain this ability is essential.

   One thing that seems to help is a life of music. Aging musicians have been shown to experience less neuronal degradation in auditory signal processing than non-musicians, along with an enhanced ability to track pitch changes and voices in a noisy environment. However, short-term musical training has not yet been explored as an intervention to assist those already suffering from hearing loss. Researchers at Ryerson University’s SMART Lab are asking the question: can we use music to help older adults train their brains, and in doing so, improve their hearing? And can we make the process engaging and fun?

   The current study investigates whether taking part in a 10-week group singing program can improve hearing and cognitive functioning in aging adults. Participants (aged 50+), recruited through the 50+ program, take part in weekly group choir sessions and complete online musical training for 10 weeks. Individuals come into the lab at the beginning and end of the program, for pre- and post-training assessments of hearing and cognition. Early findings are very promising; participants show significant improvements in speech-in-noise perception, pitch discrimination, and the neural response to sound, as well as cognitive measures of attention. These results lend support to the use of choir participation and musical training as an intervention for older adults, to help mitigate age-related auditory and cognitive declines. Don’t be surprised if someday your family doctor recommends joining a singing group to help with your hearing!