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 that 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 behaviors 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.
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.
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.