Parkinsons Disease and Music

Let's review some of the more common Parkinsons disease symptoms and how music affects them.

Is there a cure for Parkinsons?

There is no known cure for Parkinsons disease. By the time one is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it is estimated that 80% of the nerve cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain have died, leaving too few remaining to manufacture sufficient quantities of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

The goal of treatment is to control symptoms by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. The most common drug prescribed for Parkinson's disease is carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet), which passes through the blood/brain barrier and converts into dopamine.

Common Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinsons disease symptoms vary between individuals and can be classified into motor, non-motor, and drug-related symptoms.

Some of the most common motor symptoms are:

  • Resting tremor of the arms
  • Slowness of voluntary movement (bradykinesia)
  • Weakness of face and throat muscles resulting in choking, coughing, or drooling
  • Change in facial expression
  • Problems with walking and balance
  • Stiff and/or painful muscles (rigidity)

Some of the most common non-motor symptoms are:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Reduced of sense of smell
  • Loss of energy
  • Memory difficulties, slowed thinking, and confusion
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Soft or slurred speech

Heather’s Parkinson’s Diagnosis Story

as told in The Healing Power of the Drum by Lawrence Friedman)

“When I was 46 years old, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. By then, I had been dealing with Parkinson’s symptoms for at least five years, and I was not doing well.

My symptoms included loss of balance, inability to write, almost constant pain in my shoulder, arm, back and right leg, dragging my right leg, confusion and memory issues, depression, and hand tremor.

My handwriting got smaller until I was often unable to write at all. The stairs to the flat where I lived in San Francisco made normal activities difficult, and I faced the risk and fear of falling.

Diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in that an absolute diagnosis can only be done on a post–mortem basis. All other possible disorders must be systematically eliminated before a successful response to Sinemet confirms the diagnosis.

Some of the most common drug-related symptoms of carbidopa/levodopa are:

  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Agitation and/or confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness and/or drowsiness
  • Sleep difficulties

Activities for Parkinson’s Disease

In addition to medication and surgery, music therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy have been found to be beneficial in mitigating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

One of the difficulties in dealing with long-term illnesses and movement disorders such as Parkinsons disease is the enormous cost associated with treatment. An ideal solution is to utilize your own music–ability to improve your quality of life, while minimizing your expenses.

This web site focuses on the positive effects that music can have on one’s life.

Here is more of Heather’s abridged story from The Healing Power of the Drum:

“I began a regimen that included energy work, meditation, yoga, and exercise and decided to treat myself to something that I had always wanted to do. I began drumming. Initially, I could not actively participate in drum circles because of the pain in my arm, but the powerful effects of the rhythms were working me. My mobility slowly began to improve, and my new life’s passion began.

Drumming and Drum Circle Rhythms

I believe that the rhythmic nature of the drumbeat has been responsible for my success in slowing thee process of Parkinsons disease. I notice that after I facilitate (conduct) a drum circle, my symptoms are better for a few hours. On days that I do not participate in a drum circle my gait difficulties and tremor remain problematic.

There is a marked difference in my stride before I walk into a drum circle and after. Although exercise can be attributed to my improved symptoms, I believe there is a more powerful influence – music. Although small motor movements in my hand are still challenging (I still have great difficulty writing), my typing has improved. My voice is stronger and I do not choke as often as before. I still have symptoms, but they are usually manageable unless I’m in a high stress situation.

My degenerative disease has become a means to a remarkable regeneration of mind, body and spirit. I now work almost exclusively with others who are physically and developmentally challenged, as well as with the elder population.

A Renewed Life

Nowadays I listen to, and speak with, many people facing life–changing events and threatening illnesses and I always recommend that they fall in love with something and discover their passion. Mine is drumming and being of service to others, while trusting my fate and enjoying my life enormously.






Visit our home page to see how you can enhance your own music-ability

Read the Paper presented at the World Parkinson Congress 2006 Presentation

Click here to review Heather's 2006 Parkinsons Congress Poster Session

Click here for samples of songs to enhance movement.

Return to the top of this Parkinsons Disease page here

Songs, Science, Spirit by Heather MacTavish availble here, securelt through Amazon.

Please click on the image above to purchase Songs, Science & Spirit! Your purchase will support the World Centre for Creative Learning Foundation, formed by Zubin Balsara, based in Pune, India.

2013 World Parkinson Congress video competition

Heather MacTavish tells her video story of incontinence while celebrating life and meaning - with special thanks to the 2013 WPC Congress. Click here: Secret Shames & Parkinson's Perils

Third Annual Parkinsons Recovery Summit

The Parkinsons Recovery Summit is the happening of each year for anyone interested in learning about the many options that people with Parkinsons are using to reverse their symptoms.

When: February 21-24, 2013 : Santa Fe, New Mexico: La Fonda Hotel Cost: $200 per person

Click here for information and information: Parkinsons_Recovery_Summit





Read about the World Congress Presentation here


Here are favourite songs that can jump-start and enhance movement

You may be interested in viewing this brief video, taken in India at an engaging Drum Circle.

Read about how music and songs can galvanize movement