How Music Therapy Helps Those with Parkinson’s Build Strength

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Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder that can severely limit a person’s movement. However, neuroscience research continues to prove that music therapy can be extremely effective in addressing the physical limitations and struggles that result from the disease as well as the speech and communication deficits that can progress.

In fact, some studies have shown that certain types of music can have a profoundly positive effect in stimulating the production of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters (chemicals produced by brain cells) that tend to be damaged by the symptoms of Parkinson’s 1.

The Power of Music in Parkinson’s Care

Music has long been thought to not only promote wellness and healing, but also to help manage stress. It seems to be especially beneficial in caring for those with Parkinson’s and other types of dementias.

The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s causes problems with motor coordination, especially in initiating movement, consecutive movement, or slowness of movement. Over time, the brain rhythm’s ability to circuit control movement gets derailed by the disease. Research suggests that music-based movement (MbM) therapy can help restore the normal rhythm and improve gait-related activities like the brain’s ability to respond to movement. Music therapy helps patients focus on the enjoyment of moving to music instead of their current mobility limitations.

Studies have shown that playing and listening to music, as well as singing and dancing to music, can modify emotions, movements, communication, and cognitive factors, by activating certain sectors of the brain that control these behaviours 2.

Rhythm in particular plays a crucial role in rehabilitation, enhancing connections between the motor and auditory systems leading to beneficial effects, such as improving the speed and length of a step, as well as motor timing abilities 3. Not only does the brain change when listening to or playing music, but the emotional response to hearing music can actually increase the release of dopamine, which appears to be lacking in those suffering from Parkinson’s.

The Various Benefits of Music Therapy

In addition to enhancing motor skills and coordination, music therapy can also help mitigate the psychological symptoms of Parkinson’s and other dementias, such as anxiety and moodiness, as well as sleep disorders.

Individuals with dementia often have difficulty articulating their words; speech can become slurred and unclear. This may be caused by breathing issues and/or the motor aspects of speech. This is where the value of singing therapy plays a beneficial role. Encouraging loved ones to “sing” and sustain single syllables promotes greater breath support. And if they also tap their hand while they speak, it can aid in the coordination and clarity of their speech.

Sometimes an individual with Parkinson’s has too much movement and can’t stop the tremors or involuntary movements referred to as dyskinesia. The urge to move may over-rule the need to relax and may even disrupt sleep. In these instances, slow rhythmic music can slow down overactive body rhythms and induce relaxation and sleep.

Other aspects of the disease can affect a patient’s mood, causing depression, anxiety and even social isolation. Participating in music therapy groups, such as therapeutic drumming groups, dance and choral groups, can provide an outlet for self-expression and a closer connection to others.

Music Therapy Guidelines for Parkinson’s Caregivers

While there are many support groups and programs for music therapy, caregivers can also develop their own music therapy program.

Family caregivers should be urged to incorporate music into a daily routine, especially singing which has multiple benefits in Parkinson’s care. Start by exploring your loved one’s favourite music and create a music library of songs and personalized playlists that encourage movement and singing. An IPOD or portable CD player are all you’ll need to play the music while you’re at home or out and about.

Schedule a “sing along” session at the same time every day. Play a favourite tune and sing along together. Tranquil music can also be used as a sleep aid, so set up a music library of those favourite melodies as well.

Even if the disease has already caused cognitive change and/or movement challenges, music therapy can help.

Trending Now: Music to Mend the Mind

Music therapy is getting a lot of national and international attention these days. Many elders have been helped through the power of music and the Music & Memory programs.

According to Canadian researcher Jessica Grahn, a professor at Western University in London, Ontario, music enables the brain of an individual with Parkinson’s to “bypass the faulty circuitry” caused by the disease. “Many patients struggle with internally-generated movements — trying to get up and walk across the room, for example– only to realize that their brain is not receiving the signal. But reflexive movements, such as catching a ball thrown in their direction or dancing to music, seem to remain intact.”

The Rhythm, Music & Mind

Everyone has some inherent rhythm (even those who swear they can’t dance!) And for those suffering from Parkinson’s, an active music therapy program with singing and dancing and listening to music, can not only help improve their movements and motor skills, but also their emotional health and well-being.




  3. Thaut MH. Rhythm, Music and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group; (2005)