Beat It! Learning to Walk to Music Reduces Falls for Parkinson’s Patients

Beat It! Learning to Walk to Music Reduces Falls for Parkinson’s Patients

A training program in which patients walk while listening to regular beats can improve the velocity and cadence of Parkinson’s disease patients, while reducing their risk of falling, a study shows.

The study, “Rhythmic auditory stimulation for reduction of falls in Parkinson’s disease: a randomized controlled study,” was published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation.

Parkinson’s disease patients experience difficulties in movement that affect their ability to produce a steady gait, resulting in a high incidence of falls. More than half of all Parkinson’s patients fall recurrently.

While there are several training techniques to aid in maintaining a steady gait and avoiding falls, studies suggest that gait motor control is dependent on a patient’s internal timing and that rhythm-based training could reduce risk of falling.

The rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) technique is among the approaches used to synchronize gait movements with time cues. But there have been no studies assessing the benefits of RAS in Parkinson’s patients.

So, researchers in Canada set out to determine if a home-based RAS program could aid in decreasing falls in patients with that history.

The study was a randomized, controlled trial (NCT03316365) that involved 60 Parkinson’s patients, 47 of whom completed the study.

The RAS training protocol involved 30 minutes of daily walking using “click-embedded music,” which was designed to enhance rhythm perception. Essentially, patients listened to folk or classical music with embedded metronome beats while performing their walking exercises.

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Participants were divided into two groups, experimental and control. Both groups received RAS training up to week 8, after which the control group stopped training and the experimental group continued. Then  training was resumed for the control group between weeks 16 and 24. Patients in the experimental group received RAS training for the entire 24 weeks.

Participants were assessed at the beginning of the study and at eight, 16, and 24 weeks following that. Assessment criteria included stride length, speed, balance, and falls.

As expected, no significant differences were seen between the two groups at week eight. However, at week 16, the experimental group showed significant improvement in velocity, cadence, stride length, decreased number of falls, and fear of falling compared to the control group.

At week 24 — after the control group had resumed RAS training — the signifiant differences in velocity, cadence, stride length, and fear of falling remained, but there were no longer significant differences in the number of falls.

Taken together, the findings indicate that “RAS gait training significantly reduced the number of falls and modified key [parameters] in gait control in patients with Parkinson’s disease,” researchers wrote.

“This clinical investigation demonstrates that RAS gait training is a potential intervention to reduce the risk of falling, since it directly addresses temporal instability, which is one of the most detrimental variables associated with falls,” they concluded.

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