Adventures in Music and Neuroscience

Assistant professor Elizabeth Stegemöller

As a music therapist with a PhD in neuroscience, Iowa State assistant professor of kinesiology, Elizabeth Stegemöller set off on a research journey to improve the lives of those suffering from Parkinson's disease. Her ultimate goal is to apply music therapy to improve movement and the brain.

Nearly 10 million people worldwide suffer from the progressive neurological disease that to date has no known cure. Musical exercises like humming, singing, and deep breathing are meant to strengthen the muscles of the mouth, throat, and lungs. With stronger vocal muscles, Parkinson's patients can maintain the ability to swallow food and medicine, reduce slurred speech, and retain respiratory function as the disease progresses.

After the initial 8- to 10-week studies, the singing group -- made up of Iowans in their 70s and 80s -- experienced improvements in how loud they could speak, breathing in and out, swallowing, as well as improved moods. Music therapy became a highlight of their week and their caregivers commented on seeing fewer disease symptoms and happier loved ones.

"Singing is a fun, easy way to help improve their quality of life," says Stegemöller. "And it's rewarding to see the group enjoying themselves, while doing something that ultimately makes them feel better."

Adventurous minds like Professor Stegemöller are working to make an impact on people's lives each and every day, and her students and colleagues all benefit from working alongside her. Just think about the real-world impact you could make collaborating with Iowa State University professors.