Beating Up Parkinson’s

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Levine Design

We know that music is good for just about everything. It has been shown to be beneficial for pregnant moms and people with depression, and as an aid to studying and an enhancement to dining. Now we can add Parkinson’s patients to the list of beneficiaries.

Wendy Paris reports in Psychology Today (Sept.-Oct. 2010) that more than two dozen studies indicate that using music and rhythm in physical therapy settings  improves patients’ walking ability and upper body movement. The practice works for Parkinson’s patients, as well as for people who’ve had a traumatic brain injury or stroke. A German study also found music therapy to be instrumental in improving motor skills in stroke patients.

Now that researchers know that the therapy works, they’re still trying to determine why. Evolutionary biologist Aniruddh Patel thinks the phenomenon has to do with a species ability (or inability) to learn vocally. To prove this hypothesis, he studied the YouTube sensation Snowball, a cockatoo that dances to the beat of popular music. Patel told Paris, “You can never train a dog, no matter how smart it is, to move to a beat.” But just to be sure, the researcher is attempting to train a horse to dance–no report on what song he’ll choose.

This article first appeared in the January-February 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

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