Parkinson's disease is a degenerative neurological process affecting the "substantia nigra," a small area of cells in the mid-brain. Loss of these cells results in a reduction in levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine and upsets the balance between dopamine and another brain chemical, acetylcholine. The most familiar signs of the disease are resting tremor (trembling) of the, arms, legs, jaw, and face that decreases with movement; a generalized slowness of movement; stiffness in the limbs and trunk; rigid facial expressions; and problems with balance or gait. Mental function can deteriorate in advanced cases, and depression is common.
Several small studies have suggested that music therapy can slow the progression of Parkinson's. One of the best known clinical trials, from Italy, found that music therapy positively affected movement, emotions and quality of life among a small group of patients. Other research has suggested that some types of music can stimulate production of dopamine and serotonin, another neurochemical involved in Parkinson's. There's not one type of music that helps everyone. Music therapists report that with each patient, they must try various rhythms or music styles to see which ones help with walking, balance, and movement. However, sometimes slow, rhythmic music can help promote relaxation and sleep among patients who would otherwise be wakened by involuntary movements.
Consider working with a music therapist to investigate whether music benefits you (to learn more, visit the American Music Therapy Association at www.musictherapy.org). On your own, however, you can listen to various types of music to see what helps you move, prompts you to sing (and thus strengthens your voice) or helps you relax and sleep.
While there's no cure for Parkinson's, a variety of drugs including L-Dopa (Levodopa) and Sinemet (Carbidopa) can slow its progression and help manage symptoms. L-Dopa is converted to dopamine in the brain. Sinemet prevents L-Dopa from being broken down before it reaches the brain.
Findings from a small study (with only 80 participants) at the University of California, San Diego, suggest that taking 1,200 mg per day of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can also help slow progression of the disease in its early stages, although these are very high doses and quality supplements can be quite expensive. Before we can say for sure that CoQ10 helps, the results must be confirmed in larger studies.
For other tips on managing Parkinson's Disease, see the Web site of the Parkinson's Action Network at www.parkinsonsaction.org.
Andrew Weil, M.D.