Music Helps Movement, Mood in Parkinson's Patients
June 20, 2000 -- Music. It does a body good. Physical therapy may help keep
Parkinson's disease patients limber, but now researchers have found that music
therapy may help them move faster -- and make them happier.
This is the first time that music therapy's effect on Parkinson's has been
objectively studied, the Italian researchers say, and their results appear in
the latest issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive, incurable nervous system disease that
is characterized by difficulties walking, moving, and by uncontrollable
tremors. It's caused by a decrease in brain cells that create dopamine, a
chemical that is important for regulating body movement. Often, improving
patients' ability to move and walk can help improve their well-being.
Thirty-two Parkinson's patients with mild to moderate disability
participated in the study. They were divided into two equal groups -- one group
went through three months of weekly physical therapy sessions; the other had
weekly music therapy sessions. The latter consisted of listening to music,
creating it on instruments, and moving to it rhythmically.
The researchers noted that physical therapy improved stiffness -- but did
not have a significant effect on overall daily performance. Music therapy did.
Patients reported improved ability to do such tasks as cut food and get
dressed, and said they were less likely to fall or experience the sudden
freezing-up of muscles that occurs with Parkinson's. Also patients with
Parkinson's sometimes have trouble initiating movement, and music therapy
improved this problem -- possibly because of its rhythmical quality, the
But the patients' emotional response to the music could also have affected
their ability to move, they say, by activating a particular pathway in the
brain that is thought to help regulate some movements. But either way, the
patients were happier when listening to music, and it increased their
Enrico Fazzini, MD, a neurologist at New York University Medical Center,
says the effectiveness of music therapy is linked to what Parkinson's disease
takes away from patients: their ability to move automatically -- for example,
their ability to ride a bike without thinking about it. "[With Parkinson's]
people have to bring walking [or biking] into their consciousness. ... They
have to bring into consciousness what was previously unconscious. Anything that
helps them do that will help them to move."
Music can do that, Fazzini says -- sometimes dramatically. "A lot of
times Parkinson's patients can dance beautifully when they can't walk. I have
people who can barely take a step, but they can dance. Because they bring the
unconscious into the conscious."
In other words, they know where to put their feet because the music is
giving them a cue: the beat. By the same token, he says, some Parkinson's
patients walk better in soft sand than on firmer ground because they use the
feeling of sinking as a prompt to raise their feet.