Music Improves Parkinson’s Gait

Post prepared by Quoc-Sy Kinh Nguyen Drexel University College of Medicine Class of 2014

Walking through the park

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that affects 1% of people over the age of 60.
It is a clinical diagnosis that requires 2 out of 3 of the following signs: resting tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia.
Although there is no cure, there are certain medications that can slow down the process: Levodopa is currently the most effective medical treatment for Parkinson’s, but long-term use can lead to levodopa-induced dyskinesias (LID), which include chorea, athetosis, and dystonia. This condition is difficult to treat and significantly affects a patient’s quality of life.

Fortunately, once LID has developed, lowering the dosage of levodopa may help. Medications such as amantadine and atypical neuroleptics can also be used to alleviate the symptoms of LID. Though a bit more invasive, deep brain stimulation is another alternative.

Ultimately, LID is caused by chronic levodopa therapy. Therefore, if one can avoid its use or lower the dosage of levodopa while still treating symptoms of Parkinson’s, then this whole ordeal can be circumvented. To avoid developing LID, one can initially take dopamine agonists such as pramipexole to delay the need for levodopa. As the disease progresses, dopamine agonists become less effective, and levodopa must then be introduced. Once it is introduced, taking levodopa at a lower dosage may decrease the risk of developing LID. In practical terms, one must lower the threshold to symptomatic relief of Parkinson’s by levodopa.

In the pilot study “Ambulosono: A Sensorimotor Contingency-Based Musical Walking Program For People Living With Parkinson’s Disease,” researchers aimed to do just that.

They used the accelerometer of the fourth-generation iPod to monitor differences in stride length among Parkinson’s patients tied to a music program.

The patients were told to do long-distance, large-stride walking every day, with the iPod strapped in a pouch above the patients’ knees, connected by wireless headphones. It was set up to have continuous music playback when a certain stride length was reached. The music playlist consisted of musical cues that have reported effectiveness in activating the limbic and other associated motor networks.

The researchers followed 42 patients with Parkinson’s over a period of 320 days with a cumulative walking distance of 3500 km and 700 hours of music playback. They found significant improvements in stride length (10–30%) and walking speed (10–20%), as well as improvements in other functional areas, like arm swinging, facial expression, long-term fear and anxiety of using escalators, and activity avoidance resulting from depression and anxiety.

This novel approach of employing current accessible technology in the functional improvement of Parkinson’s disease reduces the burden linked to taking levodopa. While this is a small study and further investigations are still needed, it provides a different perspective of Parkinson’s treatment that has the potential to greatly improve patients’ quality of life by decreasing exposure to medications and their many side effects.