How Music Therapy Repairs Skills in Those with Parkinson's

Music therapy is used to help restore the motor skills in people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Daughter is holding her mother’s hand to help her move around physically. The mother cannot get around easily due to the stiffness in her joints.


Nearly one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s Disease per year according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Approximately six million people suffer from it worldwide. It is becoming one of the world’s most widespread diseases. 

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disorder. This disorder disrupts the flow of the central nervous system. It is caused when dopamine stops producing or dies within the brain. Dopamine is a neurological chemical that helps control movement in humans. When there becomes a lack of dopamine, it then causes a person to struggle to move. Stiffness in the hands or having difficulty walking are symptoms of Parkinson’s. It’s also a lifelong, progressive disease which implies that it grows worse over time.

Elderly man with Parkinson’s disease struggles to eat his soup because of the pain he feels in his hands. The stiffness in his joints make it difficult for him to complete even the smallest of tasks. 

How Can Music Therapy Help People With Parkinson’s Disease?

Music is used to promote healing all over the world. Music can be used as a form of therapy to help revive the sensory, fine, and gross motor skills in clients. There are many ways that music therapy can benefit someone with Parkinson’s. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, it helps in a variety of ways. Music therapy can improve a client's balance, communication, cognition, mental health, and social isolation.

Where We See Improvements

Libby McDermott claims that playing piano has helped alleviate the stiffness in her hands. She says that she has always had trouble writing and typing due to Parkinson’s. Playing piano helps her hand muscles loosen by pressing the piano’s keys to a rhythmic beat.

Music therapy also helps clients with Parkinson’s disease by restoring their balance. People with Parkinson’s struggle to move side to side or stride with ease. Music therapy causes moving to become easier and more effortless.

Communication is a vital aspect of understanding one another. People that suffer from Parkinson’s struggle to get their words out. With the help of singing, clients’ volume and articulation levels rise. It is also proven to help swallowing. Humming helps to relax vocal folds that may be tense or stretched.

Clients are encouraged to sing because it restores and improves issues with memory. Recall, recognition, and attention spans improve by using music-based cues.

Almost half of the adults in the United States struggle with some sort of mental disease. People with Parkinson’s Disease are no different. Music therapy helps them express themselves. This alleviates anxiety, fatigue, depression, sleeping problems, and more. The increase in self-expression leads to self-discovery in people with Parkinson's. Self-discovery fights against any unwanted feelings such as anxiety and depression.

People with Parkinson’s encounter obstacles to interact socially. Group therapy sessions allow them to connect and understand others.

Why Does Rhythm Matter?

Rhythm is an important part of music therapy for people with Parkinson’s. Rhythm plays an essential role by creating a series of organized movements for the client. It helps to fight against the cognitive issues that affect the functionality of movement. People with Parkinson’s struggle to move because their joints become stiff over time.

Rhythm helps to combat the struggle to move in clients with Parkinson’s. This results in an increase in attention and focus. It also helps to coordinate movement, stimulate attention spans, and induce relaxation.  

Older woman massages her own hands after a long day because her muscles are sore and rigid from Parkinson’s. It becomes harder to move the muscles in her hands as time goes on.

Proof that Music Therapy Works

Music therapy works to help people with Parkinson’s increase skills in sensory movements. In a study conducted by Natalia Garcia-Casares, twenty-seven articles analyzed the repercussions of motor symptoms. Out of twenty that analyzed the effects in motor systems, sixteen of the studies proved to increase within motor symptoms. Only four studies did not increase. 

There were nine studies done on non-motor symptoms with people who have Parkinson’s. Out of those nine, seven came back with positive results. 

Eight studies emphasized on the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. Six of the eight studies correlated in a positive manner.

Neither non-motor or quality of life studies manifested any negative effects on music therapy. They either benefitted the clients or there was no change seen at all. 

Another study was conducted in which thirty-two clients with moderate to severe Parkinson’s were divided into two groups. Research from this study showed that physical therapy improved the ability to get dressed. It also helped clients do normal, everyday tasks. However, it did not help the clients in overall daily performance. Music therapy on the other hand, did. Clients reported that they felt as if they were less likely to fall or experience a sudden freeze up of muscles after music therapy treatment.

It is also possible that music therapy activated a particular pathway in the brain. This pathway can trigger an emotional response out of the clients with Parkinson’s disease. When triggered, this pathway affects the ability to move following the regulation of physical movements. 

People with Parkinson’s struggle to physically move on their own. The brain allows us to automatically move however we desire, without thinking. People with Parkinson’s struggle to move while unconsciously thinking about it. 

According to Enrico Fazzini, MD, neurologist at New York University Medical Center, music therapy helps people with Parkinson’s disease unconsciously move again. It helps them bring consciousness of a movement back into the brain. This helps them move with ease. Fazzini claims that he has clients that cannot walk easily, but seem to have no trouble dancing. It is because they think about dancing, and are bringing it into their unconscious. By bringing it into the unconscious, they have an easier time moving about.

All in All

Music therapy is proven to help with the sensory skills in people with Parkinson’s. It has exhibited beneficial effects within the motor, non-motor, and quality of life skills in those with the disease.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Samantha Damico
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