Music Therapy

Neurologic Music Therapy Group Helps People with Parkinson’s Disease

By Carolyn Dobson for the Neurologic Music Therapy Group

Music therapy has proven to be particularly effective for people with Parkinson’s disease. Research in both music therapy and in neuroscience has shown that music can affect function in profound ways. In fact, some neuroscience studies have shown that certain types of music stimulate the production of dopamine and serotonin — two neurotransmitters (chemicals produced by brain cells) that are diminished in PD patients.

Many individuals with Parkinson’s have problems with initiation and consecutive movement. They also have problems with slowness of movement, or bradykinesia. Music, particularly rhythm, can become a template for organizing a series of movements.

This process is not automatic. The rhythm must stimulate the impulse or will to move in the PD patient in order for the impulse to transfer into real movement. The music therapist explores various rhythmic patterns or musical styles with the patient to establish which patterns will help with walking, balance and movement in general. Patients report that by focusing on the rhythm and trying to feel its pulse they can better walk or perform consecutive tasks where previously they froze.

In addition to movement, patients with PD may have problems with articulation where their speech becomes slurred and unclear. Sometimes this is because of poor breath support, and sometimes it’s a result of difficulties with the motor aspects of speech, i.e. moving the mouth and tongue to articulate a specific sound. Patients are encouraged to “sing” and sustain single syllables to promote greater breath support. They are also encouraged to tap their hand while they speak as this aids in the coordination and clarity of their speech.

Sometimes the patient with PD has too much movement and can’t stop the tremors or involuntary movements referred to as dyskinesia. The urge to move may impede 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 Parkinson’s disease can affect a patient’s mood, causing depression, anxiety and even social isolation. Participating in music therapy groups, including therapeutic drumming groups, dance and movement groups, and music therapy support groups, can provide an outlet for self-expression and a closer connection to others. Active music therapy can aid in promoting both physical and emotional health and well-being.

The Neurologic Music Therapy Group meets each month and is designed to address the physical limitations and struggles that occur with PD as well as the speech and communication deficits that can progress with the disease. Individuals at any stage of the disease are welcome and can benefit from the interventions. Caregivers can learn how to assist their loved one at home using music when particular challenges arise.

Reprinted with Permission

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