Have you seen the viral video of the man with Parkinson’s Disease walking with his physical therapist? At first, he is shuffling and relying on his walker to cross the room. Then, she starts playing music. Suddenly, he's walking so much better... (Video Link)
Movement is one of the primary goal areas we address in music therapy. People with Parkinson's Disease typically walk with slow, shuffling steps and experience freezing of their gait. In music therapy, we use music with a strong, rhythmic beat and rhythmic cues to help these clients plan and coordinate their movements.
Strong rhythmic beats can improve the walking abilities of people who have Parkinson's Disease. Both the speed and length of steps can be improved with a steady beat. It is believed that these external beats regulate the damaged internal clock of Parkinson's patients, helping them better coordinate movements.
Music and physical therapists use a technique called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation to help clients improve their gait. This technique uses the client's preferred music style, paired with an audible beat, and asks the client to synchronize their steps.
Other motor movements, including upper body and fine motor skills, are targeted as well. Music is used to provide rhythmic and spatial cues for movement. For example, we may hold a drum and tambourine out on either side of a client's body and have them strike these alternately, crossing the body in time with music. Other techniques use melodic cues- like an ascending or descending scale, to promote lifting and lowering the arms.
Challenges with speech, including voice volume, clarity, and a monotone vocal quality, often accompany Parkinson's Disease. Singing is an enjoyable and effective way to address speech-related problems. Vocal exercises are used to improve the volume and intonation of the voice. Pairing these exercises with favorite songs makes practicing fun and meaningful.
Music therapy techniques like singing and rhythmic vocal exercises, help exercise the same muscles used for swallowing and breathing. We are skilled in helping even self-professed "non-singers" enjoy making music while strengthening vital muscles and improving outcomes.
The impact of Parkinson's Disease on one's mood and emotional wellbeing is significant. Depression and anxiety are common, due to changes in neurotransmitters that accompany the disease and the challenges of coping with this progressive condition. Recent advances in neuroscience highlight the positive effects of music on dopamine and serotonin- the same chemicals impacted by Parkinson's.
Listening to music that we love releases dopamine in the brain. In music therapy, we use favorite familiar music to increase positive feelings, create a shared connection, and help people experience and express emotions. Most often, the therapist shares live music with clients, playing their favorite songs and encouraging participation and reminiscence.