Rethinking music therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

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      Brett Warthen
      Keymaster

      I’ll admit it, if I’m at a Parkinson’s conference and the speaker starts talking about music therapy for Parkinson’s Disease, my eyes roll back in my head. I know it helps people, but it just seems more geared to my grandfather’s generation. The associated picture is either a choir, or people with PD sitting around a music therapist with an acoustic guitar, singing what I can only categorize as campfire songs. Maybe I’m from a different generation, but unless you are actually sitting around a campfire, I don’t ever see a reason to ever sing a campfire song (and I’m not sure sitting around a campfire even qualifies).

      I give the Parkinson’s choirs some credit. I can understand why some people see enjoyment in a musical activity like a choir, but it is definitely not for me. Given the choice, I actually prefer campfire songs to choral music selections (but that is only because the reference makes me think of SpongeBob SquarePants).

      A recent article and video from Wired Magazine made me give the idea of music therapy for PD a second thought, because music therapy is what you make it. My idea of music therapy is going to a Foo Fighters concert, or Rival Sons (next up on my concert calendar), or some other rock band that you’ve probably never heard of. I previously didn’t think of this as musical therapy, but now I think I can.

      I highly recommend watching the video in this article: “HOW DOES MUSIC AFFECT YOUR BRAIN? EVERY IMAGINABLE WAY” https://www.wired.com/story/tech-effects-how-does-music-affect-your-brain/

      To me, music evokes a feeling, a passion…it also brings back memories of past experiences that you associate with a particular song. I grew up listening to classic rock, and I enjoyed reading the liner notes on the albums. I read the music magazines. I wanted to know who wrote the songs…who played guitar…who played the drums…who sang the vocals…and yes, even who played bass or keyboard (I was thorough). And recalling those details years later when listening to a song has got to be good for the brain.

      Also, from a PD perspective, the feeling you get from hearing a song that you like has got to be good for your dopamine levels, right?

      When I watched the video associated with that Wired article, and they talked about getting goosebumps from hearing the background vocals in the song “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, I knew that they were talking about Merry Clayton, who absolutely nailed that performance. And I thought about her solo version of that song, which lacks the aggression of the Stones version, but gives us more of those vocals that really made the song pop.

      I guess what I’m getting at is that music appreciation, or music enjoyment, is somewhat personal. Musical tastes are personal. But there’s also something about concerts and live performances…feeling the energy of a crowd that shares your appreciation of the music.

      Perhaps you get a similar feeling singing in a Parkinson’s sing-a-long or choir. That’s great. I don’t mean to be dismissive…it’s just not for me. Our musical tastes are personal, and we should be respectful of our differences. That said, I do agree that singing is a great way to exercise our voices…and that’s while you’ll find me singing along to loud rock and roll on the way to and from Rock Steady Boxing each day.

      On that final note, our music therapy for today is Merry Clayton’s solo vocal performance of “Gimme Shelter”. This was recorded a couple years after the original version with The Stones.

      P.S. – Did you know that Merry also sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama“?

      P.P.S. – When my nursing home days inevitably arrive, don’t be surprised when my name shows up in a news story like this one, because it’s just part of my music therapy treatment!

      2 elderly men sneak out of nursing home to attend heavy metal festival – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/elderly-men-nursing-home-wacken-open-air-festival-itzehoe-heavy-metal/

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