She’s Got the Beat: How Music Helps My Sister With PD

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by Jo Gambosi |

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Recently, I spent a weekend at a cabin in northern Arizona with some of my SisterChicks friends, as we call ourselves. We were escaping the Phoenix metro area, with its soaring 100-plus-degree temperatures and desert landscape, to experience the ponderosa pine trees and cooler weather.

After we’d had some wine one evening, we played a game called Eyetoons, in which teams take turns drawing cards with song titles and have to get team members to correctly guess what’s on their card by drawing or humming. Needless to say, we were hysterical as we watched and listened to one another. A song from the ’60s had us breaking out in song and dancing!

As it did for us that night, music seems to have the power to energize, calm, bring joy, and make people move.

But music can do even more. It can serve as a powerful complementary therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other illnesses.

As Rebecca Gilbert, MD, PhD, Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer of the American Parkinson Disease Association, wrote in a 2019 article, “Music therapy, which utilizes rhythm, movement, voice and creativity to try to improve Parkinson’s disease symptoms, [is] very popular for people with PD.”

Gilbert explained that there are several types of music therapy.

“One technique is known as rhythmic auditory cueing, in which rhythm is used to facilitate movement and improve gait. People with PD often note that moving or walking to a rhythm helps improve their movement and employing rhythm to help people with PD is frequently used by PD rehabilitation experts. Music is a great way to provide that rhythm,” she noted.

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My sister, Bev, who has stage 3 PD, loves to listen to music by Neil Diamond, Johnny Mathis, and Simon & Garfunkel.

Bev told me, “Songs by these musicians are uplifting and reflect how I feel. The music and words can bring my mood up on a difficult day because they are meaningful to me. They help me to concentrate better, and I seem to have less shaking. I also like to sing along.”

Researchers have studied the effects of both individual and group singing on people with PD.

Singing may help:

  • Increase voice volume and quality.
  • Improve respiratory control and swallowing by strengthening muscles responsible for these functions.

I noticed that Bev, who at times has slow, hesitant, or slurred speech, pronounces words more clearly when she is singing along with one of her favorite songs.

She said, “When I sing, I don’t have to focus on the words I’m singing. They just come out of my mouth more easily than when I am talking. I also don’t seem to run out of air to get through a chorus!”

Music therapy may also improve the quality of life for individuals with PD.

In an article for Home Care Assistance, writer Cheryl Popp suggests that caregivers for family or friends with PD incorporate music into their daily routine by creating a playlist of the person’s favorite songs and scheduling a singalong with them. The music can be beneficial for both the caregiver and the individual with Parkinson’s.

Bev’s son made her a playlist of her favorite music that she can listen to daily. Although Neil Diamond isn’t one of my favorite singers, I have been known to belt out “Coming to America,” a classic, with my sister!

Music is the language of the soul. It allows us to express emotions that we sometimes cannot express in words.

With PD, Bev may sometimes feel that no one really understands what she is experiencing or how she feels on a difficult day. Music becomes her vehicle for expression.

That is the splendor and healing touch of music.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Louis Sander avatar

Louis Sander

Very nice article, full of interesting, useful detail. So was the accompanying Ray article. Keep it up!


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