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Can Music Therapy Help Ease Parkinson's Symptoms?

Can Music Therapy Help Ease Parkinson's Symptoms?

When Michael J. Fox rocked out on Johnny B. Goode with Cold Play during a concert at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in July 2016 it was wonderful to hear him make liquid magic with his guitar solo—just like he did in the 1985 movie Back to the Future.

Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991—and it appears that he may have tapped into a secret therapy for that neurological condition. Seems making music is a powerful tool for managing symptoms of the disease, which include stiffness and tremor, trouble standing or walking, poor balance, impaired voice, as well as cognitive problems and more. 

Iowa State University researchers looked at how singing can strengthen muscles that control swallowing and breathing—two functions that are damaged by Parkinson’s. Their study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine confirmed that singing, even if off-key, improves those abilities. And researchers in Lancet Neurobiology showed that music-based interventions improve everything from Parkinson’s-related motor performance, speech and cognition to brain systems that stimulate feelings of reward and arousal and affect regulation, learning and agile formation of new memories.

Music has been shown to have powerful health benefits in other situations as well. A steady rhythm helps regulate breathing and, if the tunes are relaxing, they lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It’s also been suggested that music is a great way to ease post-surgery stress and pain. In other words, when it comes to complementary medicine, music is good therapy.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

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