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Spring 2015

Volume 13 Issue 1

McGill Students Help Parkinson en mouvement Hit All the Right Notes

Author: Marielle McCrum

Version française

Sarah Humphrey has always been community-minded. Previously, she worked at an organization that developed community housing initiatives. When at age 48 she learned she had Parkinson’s Disease, Humphrey shifted her focus to helping others who shared her diagnosis. Based on the latest research, she decided to take a creative approach to coping with Parkinson’s symptoms and turned to music and dance therapy. She assembled a team of professionals and called upon McGill School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (SCSD) students to help.

Working with her friend and dance therapist Joanabbey Sack, Humphrey co-founded Parkinson en mouvement, a dance group for people with Parkinson’s. In 2009, choir coach Lisa Lapointe came on board to lead singing classes to complement the movement sessions already underway. The program now takes place in three locations across Montréal. For the past four years, SCSD students have volunteered with the singing group at Belgo Tower, located just steps away from campus.

The sessions take place weekly, with one hour of dance, and one hour of singing. Participants can choose to attend one type of session or both. A typical singing session is a bilingual progression through vocal warm ups, group songs, and songs that pair singing with movement.

Laughter can be heard from the group almost as often as singing. The participants joke amongst themselves, and don’t shy away from incorporating the SCSD students into the fun. While many participants cited social interaction as one of the reasons they attend the sessions, they are all aware of the physical benefits they are drawing from the group.

“Singing helps to wake up the face,” said Carl, a member of the group, referring to the rigid, mask-like face Parkinson’s Disease patients often experience. “[There are also] benefits for better posture, better memory, better body rhythm.”

The warm-ups and songs challenge participants to focus on the volume of their voice as well as timing their breathing to make it through an entire phrase. “I am losing my voice, but I want to keep it for another 20, 25 years,” said participant Jean, with a laugh. “There’s a physical aspect to [singing], but also a psychological aspect.”

Second year speech-language pathology students Cassie Groot, Susan Janzen and Leah MacQuarrie have volunteered with the group for the past year. All three agreed that it is an experience they will remember long after they graduate.

“I think it’s definitely going to benefit me in the future in terms of thinking of creative ways to do speech therapy,” said Susan Janzen, who has used her musical training to lead the group in song on several occasions. “Speech therapy can be a lot of things, it’s not as structured and concrete as we think.”

While Janzen may have a background in singing, the students maintain that you do not need to be a good singer to participate or to volunteer. They encourage their peers to partake in what they say is the “fun side of learning.”

Humphrey and Lapointe also hope that SCSD students will continue to lend their energy, enthusiasm, and expertise to Parkinson en mouvement for years to come. Referring to McGill students’ involvement with the program, Lapointe said she hopes to “continue the tradition.”

For more information Parkinson en mouvement, visit their website at www.parkinsonenmouvement.org .