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The healing power of music

Monday July 22, 2013

Devin Heilman

Coeur d'Alene Press - Dennis Rose, Earl Van Dyke and Nick Buzolich gathered in the community room in the Silver Lake Mall at 10 a.m. last Thursday. They smiled and joked with one another, much like youngsters in a music class who just can't sit still.

But these guys really can't sit still for long because they have Parkinson's disease. They met with board-certified music therapist Carla Carnegie to sing, stretch, and play instruments as well as do vocal exercises that focused on rhythm, movement and diaphragm control. The hour-long weekly session is called "Singing for Wellness and Joy."

The group meets every Thursday to form a positive environment for people living with Parkinson's, creating music that benefits the body and mind.

"I call it 'Singing for Wellness and Joy' because I want it to be open to everyone," Carnegie said. "We have other folks who aren't affected by Parkinson's come in and sing."
Ruby Menke, 71, joined the session a bit after 10. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's three years ago.

"It's quite a challenge though, when you have been able to sing and you really can't very well," she said. Despite the challenge, Menke has been a part of "Singing for Wellness and Joy" since it began last November, working to improve and control conditions brought on by Parkinson's.

Parkinson's disease is a motor system disorder that depletes or damages dopamine-producing nerve cells. Dopamine is necessary to maintain control of one's body, so those affected by Parkinson's generally tremble in the arms, legs, jaw and face, are stiff in the limbs, move slowly and have impaired balance. Currently, no cure is known.
Rose, 73, has been living with Parkinson's for at least nine years.

"I found out by realizing that people swing their left arm when they walk," Rose said. "I wasn't swinging my left arm." He said he was told that swinging arms while walking has to do with balance. Pretty soon he was dragging his left foot, and balance has become his No. 1 problem.

"It reminded me of Chester in 'Gunsmoke,'" he said. "He had a stiff leg."
"Singing for Wellness and Joy" is also a way for people with Parkinson's to come together to share stories, trials and tribulations, and elevate their mood through music.

"It's really great to have this opportunity to participate and to be able to say things and speak your mind and not feel embarrassed," Rose said. "We've all got the same thing. We're all in the same boat. So what you might be holding back might be just what the other person wants to hear too."

Van Dyke, 83, said the group also helps fight depression.

"All old people have multiple ailments, and we'll get depressed, and Carla cheers us up," he said. He has dealt with Parkinson's for two years, and when he started showing symptoms, he thought it was just low blood sugar. "I never did connect those dots ... it's easy to misdiagnose. I was taking the wrong medication for a while."

Buzolich, 74, has had Parkinson's for 10 years, and said many times, people with the disease will "speak very soft," and the group helps with that.

"For me, it makes it an awareness, for some reason," he said. "You forget to speak loud, by habit as well as by your Parkinson's problems. If I come here once a week I'm aware of the fact that I have to speak loud, just kind of a reminder."

"And I did not used to be a soft speaker, so now I have to really concentrate on speaking more clearly and speaking loudly. The breathing helps," Menke added. "Sometimes I forget that I'm fading out."
The group sat in a circle around Carnegie as she strummed the guitar and led songs, emphasizing the importance of breathing, volume, widening the jaw and softening the face. They sang "Back in the Saddle Again," "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and "How Great Thou Art," as well as a few others.

"I think the breathing is very helpful, and the exercise I learned today," Rose said. "The next time I feel like I can't make it across the room, I'm going to stop and practice some breathing and see if that helps."

After the singing was a Tai Chi lesson with Bob Hughes, beginning at 11 a.m. The Tai Chi is also part of the Parkinson's therapy.