Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. Dopamine is a cell signaling molecule that relays information between nerve cells and between the brain and the rest of the body. Lower dopamine levels can cause many motor issues including bradykinesia, akinesia, tremors, rigidity, and balance issues.

Parkinson’s disease can also lead to non-motor symptoms such as anxiety and depression, psychosis, sleep problems, and cognitive changes. Some studies have shown that meditation or relaxation techniques can relieve these symptoms.

Meditation and relaxation techniques

Meditation and relaxation techniques can take many forms. Listening to relaxing music is the most basic form. Mindful meditation can be used to relax and focus on breathing or negative emotions and thoughts. It can also be used to help a person become more aware of his or her surroundings or body movements.

Many resources are available online about ways to mindfully meditate or relax to help with common Parkinson’s issues. It may be helpful to have mindfulness taught by qualified and experienced instructors to achieve the greatest level of success.

Studies on effects of meditation and relaxation techniques in Parkinson’s

Several studies have shown a connection between Parkinson’s disease symptoms and mindful meditation.

In one study, 14 Parkinson’s disease patients underwent an eight-week mindfulness-based intervention, while 13 continued their usual care. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains were compared before and after the study. The MRIs showed more density in the gray matter (areas of the brain where the nerve cells are concentrated) in the mindfulness group than in the control group.

A group of 12 individuals also participated in an eight-week mindfulness-based cognitive therapy course in another study. Through analysis of diaries and interviews with the participants, the study showed that the course helped participants better cope with their emotions related to Parkinson’s disease, both individually and as a group.

Another recent study showed that stress management training led to a reduction in stress and depression in Parkinson’s patients with tremors. A total of 82 patients with Parkinson’s tremors and 30 individuals used as controls completed an eight-week stress management therapy course. The Parkinson’s group showed improvements in their ability to deal with stress and depression, while the control group had less improvement. Out of 33 of the Parkinson’s patients, 29 said the therapy was helpful when polled 12–18 months after treatment.

Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers were studied in a pilot study that included 39 participants (29 patients and 10 caregivers). The study used an eight-week mindfulness program with classes and homework. It showed that symptoms of depression were alleviated for all participants. Patients also experienced fewer mental and emotional symptoms. According to the results, the more involved the participants were in the class and homework, the greater the improvements.

Another study showed that Parkinson’s patients who completed a group mindfulness program had less stress and depression, and improved cognitive and motor function. A total of 14 patients were assessed prior to intervention, after an eight-week mindfulness training, and six months later.

A decrease in tremors was seen in a study conducted with 20 Parkinson’s patients with moderate to severe tremors. Of the patients, 15 showed no sign of tremors for one to 13 minutes after relaxation guided imagery. The intensity of tremors remained lower even 15 and 30 minutes after the imagery was stopped. Patients reported a decrease in tremors two to 14 hours after the relaxation imagery. The study also looked at the effects of self-relaxation and listening to relaxing music. Relaxing music slightly reduced the intensity of tremors, while self-relaxation did not appear to have an effect.

Another relaxation guided imagery study showed a reduction in motor fluctuations, or off episodes. Out of 21 patients, 19 completed a three-month, home-based relaxation routine involving listening to relaxation guided imagery CDs as well as relaxing music. Listening to the imagery CDs showed an increase in “on” time compared with the beginning of the study, but the relaxing music did not seem to have any effect.

Reductions in motor impairment were reported in another randomized, controlled, longitudinal study of 30 patients with Parkinson’s, 14 of whom completed mindfulness training, 13 who continued with their usual care, and three who dropped out of the study. There was a slight increase in reported pain after the trial, but, according to the authors, increased body awareness could have been the reason for this.

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