MUSIC AND PARKINSON’S
Music has an extremely powerful influence over us – it can make us happy or sad, and can transform our mood. Its infectious rhythm can get us tapping our toes and then it can also motivate us to move. Listening to music may modulate emotions, behaviour, movements, communications and cognitive factors and modify the activity of the brain areas involved in the perception and regulation of these aspects.
While one is playing music, multiple different areas of the brain are activated and in the long run, this leads to an increase in the volume and activity of the corpus callosum – the bridge that allows communication between the two sides of the brain.
Rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) can improve many aspects of gait timing. Interactive RAS can re-establish healthy gait dynamics in Parkinson’s patients, e.g. when entrained with the interactive rhythmic system (march music or a metronome), their stability improves. Parkinson’s patients can often dance beautifully even though they can’t walk. They can put their feet in position because of the music’s cue or beat. A German study indicates that using a metronome to improve the RAS is effective.4 It also helps to use the voice to sing or cue with tongue clapping to ‘defrost’ the legs. This supports the Parkinson’s patient socially and emotionally.
At the University of Calgary, Dr Bin Hu developed a music walking programme for Parkinson’s patients to help them to walk with bigger steps. Using the sensing technology of iPod touch, his team developed a new device called the ‘The Gait Reminder.’ The device is strapped to the patient’s knee and used to measure the length and speed of steps. The patients listen to the music through wireless headphones, and if they walk with adequate long steps, the device rewards them with music. If the steps become too short, the music stops, serving as a reminder to take bigger steps. ‘The Gait Reminder’ demonstrates that music can serve as powerful memory cues and help in prolonging patients’ functional mobility and better walking patterns.5
HARP MUSIC AND PARKINSON’S
The harp differs from many other instruments and the human voice by its vibrational pattern. A harp usually has 26 to 47 strings, and when listening to a harp on which a string is being plucked, you will immediately experience a quality of sound that is more than just a single note.
Dr Ron Price, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, started to play the harp for several hours daily. The harp has kept him relatively free of symptoms, but when he does not play music for several days, the symptoms return. His speech becomes garbled, his face slackens and his motor functions decrease. It is clear to medical researchers that harp playing greatly improves the motor skills of those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He started the Healing Harps group (address: Healing Harps c/o Robert Price School of Music, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, III. 60115). Today this group has 120 active members.
Parkinson’s is a complex disease. It is more than a tremor, stiffness and gait disturbance, more than a lack of dopamine in the substantia nigra. Music in all its complexity seems to harmonise with the complexity of Parkinson’s disease. It changes not only the gait, but also the depressed mood and brings happier thoughts and a lighter mood.
Editor’s Note: A new study suggests a strong correlation between the Mediterranean diet and later onset of Parkinson disease (up to 17 years later in women and 8 years later in men). It is important to take note of the impacts specific foods and micronutrients may have on brain health and to drive home the connection between the gut and the brain in disease management. The study was published in Movement Disorders.
1. Sveinbjornsdottir S. The clinical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. J Neurochem. 2016;139:318-324.
2. Atwood GW. Living Well with Parkinson’s. Hoboken, NJ:John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
3. Goodwin VA, Richards SH, Taylor RS, Taylor AH, Campbell JL. The effectiveness of exercise interventions for people with Parkinson’s disease: a systematic review and meta analysis. Mov Disord. 2008:23(5):631-640.
4. Enzensberger W, Oberländer U, Stecker K. Metronome therapy in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Nervenarzt. 1997;68(12):972-927.