Music Therapy for Parkinson's Patients

Researchers at the Methodist Neurological Institute are exploring how musical rhythms can help patients with Parkinson's disease. A growing body of research has shown that music therapy can have a greater affect on Parkinson's patients than physical therapy. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports the latest research is trying to determine what kinds of music can help Parkinson's patients with movement.

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Ballroom dancing is what 80 year old Howard Tomlinson used to enjoy doing with his wife.

"I can keep the beat but I can't get my feet to move just right."

That was Tomlinson's first clue that something was wrong. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a couple of years ago and hasn't been dancing much since. Parts of his body lock up on him from time to time. He says it's scary.

"Because you're afraid your feet are not going to move properly and you're going to get them tangled up and you're going to fall. And that's the greatest fear. The falling is not so bad. It's what you do to yourself when you hit the ground that bothers you. Get angry with yourself when you start falling and you can't stop it you know."

Tomlinson has broken a couple of pairs of glasses but thankfully no bones.Now music is coming back into his life in a different way. This time it's a music therapist in a white lab coat playing a guitar as he walks down the hallway of the doctor's office.

"Take slower steps, longer steps, there you go."

Music Therapist Anne Daleiden is trying to get Tomlinson to lengthen his strides while walking. Daleiden says the rhythm is the key.

"And then we'll analyze it musically, say, is this in two-four, or four-four, or whatever. Is this a six-eight beat, is this a swing? What really gets them moving? What gets people to start tapping their feet and walking to the beat."

Leading the research is Doctor Ron Tintner, a neurologist at the Methodist. He says one of the main problems with Parkinson's disease is movement.

"There's a phenomenon in Parkinson's disease called motor blocks or freezing of gate. And people get stuck in place while they are doing something or very commonly walking. So if you want to get somebody going again when they are stuck you can use rhythms."

Tintner says one set of rhythms may work better for some, while another set would work for another group.

"Maybe things like John Philip Sousa marches work better in one set of people."(Music from Stars and Stripes Forever)

"And Janet Jackson will work better in another."(Music from "When I think of You")

Tintner says the idea is to give patients devices such as a personal music player that they would carry with them. He says the music wouldn't necessarily be playing constantly, but rather somehow be triggered by body signals to minimize the physical effects of Parkinson's disease. Tintner's patient Tomlinson has his own ideas of what music would work for him...

"You should see me walk when I hear the Aggie war hymn." (Aggie theme)

Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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