Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Q: What was your first experience with Power For Parkinson’s® (PFP)?
It was musical, rhythmic, and moving. Nancy Bain was teaching the “Academy Awards” chair dance, to Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful,” and the combination of music, rhythm, and movement was pleasurable and addictive. I knew I had found a “home” in the PFP community.
Q: What is it about the combination of rhythm, music, and movement that you find so compelling?
Well, it’s not just me. Reading the research on these topics and their effects on the brain, body and Parkinson’s Disease (PD) have provided some insights.
Q: Such as?
While rote, repetitive movement is less beneficial than more challenging, dynamic exercise such as that offered by Power for Parkinson's, all forms of exercise have been shown to help improve cognitive functions. Aerobic exercise also improves memory function, so it is well established that folks with PD should include exercise in their treatment regimen.
Q: And what about music, rhythm, singing and dancing?
Music and singing have been shown to involve the brain systems for reward, pleasure, motivation, stress, arousal, motivation, immunity and social affiliation through stimulating the release of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
Another study that used neuroimaging found that a therapeutic singing intervention improved cardio and pulmonary health, expressive language, speech, even emotional regulation. Treatment consisted of vocalization, breathing techniques, larynx and voice exercises, and auditory feedback.
An internal cue such as singing also showed significant differences in gait, stride, and speed with PD patients. External rhythmic auditory cues provided no significant difference over no stimulus.
Musical training and playing a musical instrument has also been shown to improve the connection between both hemispheres of the brain, and has been proposed as a way to improve cognitive executive function in people with PD.
Dance (in an increasingly more challenging program) has actually been shown to increase the amount of gray matter in the brain, and to improve the integrity of white matter in the brain. A control group that did repetitive physical exercise did not show this same type of improvement. The study also found improvements in memory, attention, body balance, and psycho-social adjustments.
Q: So to sum it all up?
1. Exercise, diet, and nutrition are only part of the solution to “beat” Parkinson’s.
2. Breathing and vocal exercises should be part of any singing program in order to provide therapy to counteract volume and expression issues that are typical with PD.
3. Singing while walking improves gait problems.
4. Building on dance movements from simple to complex helps to improve brain plasticity and build new neural connections.
5. Many studies have used surveys to measure improvements. More studies need to be done using neuroimaging and other empirical data in order to determine just how rhythm, singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments affect the brain and what these mean for people with PD or other neurological diseases.
6. And, in the meantime, don’t stop moving to the music!
About the author:
Robert Kamper, PhD, has been a Power for Parkinson's participant for five years, almost as long as the organization has existed. He attends multiple classes each week including Rhythm & Moves (PFP's "dance" class) and The Powerful Pipes singing group. Not only is Robert a wonderful musician, but he is also an amateur photographer and active member of the Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas.