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June 6, 2011

Choir helps Parkinson sufferers regain their voices

Edmonton Journal (Canada):

Donna Bradley used to have an authoritative teacher’s voice. Now, eight years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, her voice is so quiet that when she phoned her ex-husband after five years, he didn’t recognize her.

“I guess it’s just losing a little bit of yourself,” said Bradley, as she spoke about the effects of the neurodegenerative disease that progressively steals away people’s muscle control, balance and voice. It’s commonly associated with tremors, a shuffling walk, a mask-like face and slow movement.

I don’t smile. It’s an effort to smile. You have to think about walking. You have to think about talking. You have to think about smiling.”

The joy comes a bit easier each week when Bradley, 63, heads to the St. Thomas Moore Health Centre near the Faculte Saint-Jean, where she’s part of a choir filled with members who have Parkinson’s.

Anyone with the disease can join — even those who are tone-deaf — because the goal of the choir is to strengthen people’s speaking voices and give them confidence to go to parties and socialize.

Merrill Tanner, choir director, singer and speech therapist, began the choir last year as part of a research study to determine if singing exercises can strengthen the voices of people with the disease.

“I see too many people with no voice,” said Tanner, who has continued running the choir with about $5,000 from the Parkinson’s Society. “They’re still cognitively intact and they can’t talk.” Some of them live on their own or become socially isolated, embarrassed about their tremors and stutters. Over time, they lose the muscles in their face, throat and stomach.

She trains them as she would actors or professional singers, getting them to exercise their abdominal muscles to support deep diaphragm breathing and powerful voices.

People in the choir have extensive warm-up routines, stretching their cheeks and lips through exaggerating vowel pronunciations, waving their hips like belly dancers and bending their knees in the Charleston-swing style while singing oohs and ahs. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at June 6, 2011 9:58 PM

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