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Parkinson's Disease and Music Therapy: How Can One Heal?

According to UCB Canada, nearly one in every five hundred people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in Canada; this amounts to approximately 6,600 new cases each year. Due to the fact that it is a progressive and degenerative neurological disease, it is one that can have numerous life-altering consequences in all parts of life and the everyday experience for those affected. However, several treatments are believed to enhance the quality of life and mitigate the symptoms and effects of this disease, including music therapy; through this endeavour, patients may see improvements in cognition, movement, speech, and mental health, as stated by the Parkinson's Foundation. It can truly be a revolutionizing experience.

Image is courtesy of Verywell Mind.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Characterized by gradual and progressive muscle rigidity, a mask-like facial expression, shuffling walk, tremors, and clumsiness, the National Institute on Aging explains that Parkinson’s disease is an incurable disease that takes place in the central nervous system of the human body. Symptoms usually begin to show when one is at the later years of their middle age or at their earlier years of old age (ie. in one’s fifties and sixties), affecting one to two percent of people over the age of sixty-five and approximately six percent of people over the age of eighty-five. The most striking abnormality of Parkinson’s disease is the degeneration of dopamine-using neurons in the brainstem. According to Healthline, the axons (ie. the long portion of nerve fibre of a neuron) of these deteriorating nerve cells make contact with the nerve cells of the striatum, which is one of the areas of the brain that is mainly used as an area to input information in the basal ganglia (ie. a complex of brain structures responsible for movement and coordination). Therefore, when these signals are not received due to the deteriorating axons that are unable to communicate and send electrical impulses effectively, there is decreased activity in the basal ganglia loop circuits. This causes the issue of restricted movement.

Stages of the disease consist of early and advanced stages, as the Parkinson's Foundation claims. The early stage is classified through symptoms that begin to impact daily activities, such as walking. The advanced stage generally occurs when complications in movement occur from the long-term use of Levodopa, one of the main treatments for the disease.

Image is courtesy of ResearchGate.


The Mayo Clinic explains that scientific researchers have deduced that there is a strong likelihood that Parkinson’s disease occurs due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research has also pointed to the importance of abnormal genes; studies of families in which Parkinson’s disease appears to be inherited have led to the identification of nearly ten genes that may be responsible for having a strong likelihood of developing this disease.

Notably, the identified genes were associated with the atypical production of the protein alpha-synuclein, which normally regulates the level of dopamine in neuronal synapses. However, abnormal versions of the gene cause the unusual accumulation of this protein in clusters of cells called Lewy bodies in the nerve cells. This ultimately leads to the degeneration of neurons in this part of the brain (ie. the basal ganglia). In fact, WebMD states that some of these Lewy bodies can spread to other nearby nerve or glial cells, causing a widespread amassing of Lewy bodies. When this occurs, problems in cognition, such as memory, coordination and movement, behaviour, judgement and thinking, and mood result. Other genes implicated in Parkinson’s disease protect neurons from the damaging effects of oxidative stress and heavy metals under normal circumstances. However, mutations of these genes may possibly cause the neurons to be more vulnerable to the destructive effects of free radicals (from oxidative stress) or heavy metals in the environment.

Image is Courtesy of Parkinson Canada.


Because dopamine levels in the brain decrease slowly, symptoms progress gradually. According to the Mayo Clinic, general symptoms include;

  • Slowed movement (ie. Bradykinesia)

  • Impaired and unstable balance and posture (this may lead to falls)

  • Tremors (ie. uncontrollable shaking)

  • Changes in speech (ie. soft, quick, monotonous, and/or slurred speech)

  • Muscle rigidity (this may occur in any part of the body)

Music Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

Research from the Madame Curie Bioscience Database has demonstrated that the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter whose quantity decreases during the progression of the disease, as well as the production of serotonin are both activated in patients of Parkinson’s disease that participate in music therapy. It is important to note that both of these neurotransmitters play a crucial role in promoting positive feelings of pleasure and happiness. As a result, if executed in addition to other prescribed treatments, music therapy and other complementary therapies can certainly improve the quality of life of the individual.

According to the Canadian Association of Music Therapists, music therapy is a type of treatment that is intentionally used to strengthen the development of health and address physical, social, emotional, and cognitive needs. The American Parkinson Disease Association explains that it typically consists of movement, creativity, and rhythm; types include music therapy, dance, and singing. Music therapy is a specific type through which music is created (ie. singing), listened to, or moved in (ie. dancing) in order to effectuate rhythmic auditory cueing, which occurs when any type of rhythm is used to ameliorate walking gait, movement, and coordination.

Image is Courtesy of Hamlet Hub.


According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, some of the benefits of music therapy include:

  • Improved rhythm, gate, balance, and coordination through dance (ie. Tango, ballroom dancing, and Irish step dancing)

  • This plays an important role in enhancing electrical connections between the motor, sensorimotor and auditory complexes of the brain.

  • Improved speech and communication through singing (ie. individual singing and participating in choirs)

  • This has shown to be effective in improving a Parkinson’s disease patient’s quality and volume of voice and articulation of words, which can improve the symptoms associated with changes in speech. This is because singing promotes control over breath.

  • Improved control over unintentional tremors through listening to music with slow rhythms

  • This promotes the relaxation of muscles.

  • Improved emotional and cognitive well-being through the opportunity of socialization

  • This is because listening to music has been proven to stimulate the release of dopamine and helps patients focus on the music itself rather than the limitations they may have developed due to the disease.

Hence, although all patients with Parkinson’s disease may have varying symptoms to different degrees, a music therapy treatment program may not only help to improve the physical challenges associated with this disease but the emotional and psychological adversities as well.

Article author: Aneri Buch

Article editors: Valerie Shirobokov, Sherilyn Wen