First off, I am not a doctor or a scientist. I am a physiotherapist who tries hard to make sure your exercise program has function and maybe even some fun built in. I have always enjoying listening, singing, and even dancing around to music. So, I was excited to hear about combining music therapy in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Anytime I can combine something like that I want to know more.
Let’s take a look at a review article. This article was a systematic review of PD and music therapy from 2015-2020. The research reviewed 58 articles, and it included various types of interventions (e.g. singing, use of different music). The researchers grouped the results into areas of potential impact in the areas of movement, communication, emotion, and cognition.
Some of the articles in the review found that music therapy could help with improving movement components such as gait speed, reducing the number of steps, helps with gait freezing, and as a result reduce falls. As a side note one particular study noted that different types of music had different effects on our bodies. For example, classical music had a different effect on gait speed and trunk inclination compared to heavy metal music.
Singing, specifically shares similar neural and anatomical connections with our speech network. This review article noted that singing had the potential to assist with breath control, vocal deterioration, and swallowing.
Unfortunately, there were even fewer studies that looked at music and cognition. One of the articles found that music improved frontal lobe functions like higher level executive functioning such as planning. The research in this area was even more limited.
My overall take home message was that more research needs to be done. The use of music has many potential benefits in both the physical and mental well-being of patients with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Music therapy, including singing, may assist with gait patterns, gait speed, improved breath control and swallowing. It could also improve mood, motivation, social interactions and overall quality of life.
In the meantime as research improves, there is no harm in finding your rhythm. What's important when incorporating any therapy into your life is making it a regular part of your life, at least once per week, more often if possible. Put some music on your cell phone or tablet that helps you get going and keep going. Music that lifts your mood. Music that makes you sing. As they say dance like no one is watching. And, I will also add sing like no one is listening.
Michelle Tyler, physiotherapist at Pillars of Wellness
Machado Sotomayor, M. J., Arufe-Giráldez, V., Ruíz-Rico, G., & Navarro-Patón, R. (2021). Music Therapy and Parkinson's Disease: A Systematic Review from 2015-2020. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(21), 11618. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182111618