Turn Up the Volume and Kick up Your Heels
Music helps brain function.
Many people with Parkinson’s have problems like slowness of movement and difficulty initiating movement or performing consecutive movements. Music can overcome these problems.
Music can help by influencing brain function involved in motor control and emotional well being. In fact, some neuroscience studies have shown that certain types of music stimulate dopamine and serotonin, two brain chemicals that are diminished in people with Parkinson’s.
Music therapist Concetta M. Tomaino, PhD describes how music can affect movement: “Music, particularly rhythm, can become a template for organizing a series of movements. The rhythm must stimulate the impulse or will to move in order for the impulse to transfer into real movement.” Music therapists are trained professionals who use music to help the physical, emotional, and social well being of people with medical conditions like Parkinson’s.
The music therapist explores rhythmic patterns and musical styles with the patient to establish which help with walking, balance, motor freezing, and movement in general. Patients report that, by focusing on a rhythm and feeling its pulse, they can improve movement coordination and speed.
Music affects more than just movement. We’ve all experienced the way music can lift our spirits, soothe anxiety, and increase energy levels.
Adding music to exercise can reduce stress and help the mood and anxiety problems that can occur with Parkinson’s. The freedom of expression and creativity you may feel when moving to music can boost your self-confidence and reinforce your motivation to exercise by making it more enjoyable.
Occupational therapy assistant Ann Hatley-Settles leads movement-to-music exercise classes for people with Parkinson’s and other neurologic conditions. She sees first hand the positive affects of music on movement.
“I see people surprised by what they can do, which reinforces a desire to continue,” she says. “People who can’t be heard in conversation can join in and be heard when the voice is a maraca or rhythm sticks.” According to Hatley-Settles, her class enables people to focus on what they can do, rather than on their limitations.
Research agrees that dance is an important part of therapy. Researchers fro the Washington University enlisted 19 people with Parkinson's disease to 20 one-hour sessions of tango dancing or group strength and flexibility exercise designed for patients with Parkinson's and the elderly. Both groups improved in measures of movement function but the tango group had greater improvement in areas of balance.
The researchers said that while dance in general may be beneficial for patients with Parkinson's disease, tango uses several aspects of movement that may be especially relevant for these patients including dynamic balance, turning, initiation of movement, moving at a variety of speeds and walking backward. The pure fun, novelty, support and social enjoyment of dance such as tango may also be important.
Here are some ideas on how you can get the most out of music:
- Find the right music for you. Explore various styles—salsa, reggae, rock, marches—to discover pieces that make you feel good and want to move.
- Create a library of “music to move by” and use a portable player to enjoy this music while you’re walking. (Be sure to talk to your doctor or therapist before adding music to your walking routine: It can be a distraction for those who need to focus their attention. And for safety, take caution when using headphones outdoors.)
- Participate in group music programs such as a local chorus (to keep your voice strong) or dance class. Start by contacting your local community or senior center. No classes? Consider starting one!
- Involve family and friends— dance at home with your loved ones. And you don’t need to stand if balancing is hard—try dancing in a chair!
- Look for a music therapy program in your area. If none exists, take your favorite music to your next physical therapy visit and explore the benefits of music on your movement.
- Use rhythm makers—such as maracas, rhythm sticks, drums, or bells—to find and keep a beat.
- Create “musical sketches” by drawing to music. Sketches can be soft and flowing, loud and strident—visually reflecting what you are hearing.
- Join a dance class or start your own using karaoke or Wii.
Learn about other exercise programs or classes that may be of interst to you:
Author: Monique Giroux, MD
Reference: Hackney ME, Kantorovich S, Levin R, Earhart GM. Effects of tango on functional mobility in Parkinson's disease: A Preliminary Study. Journal of Neurological Physical Therapy, Vol. 31, December 2007.