On Parkinson's and Finding Comfort in Music
Last updated: May 2023
The winter sky is a black abyss by 6:00 PM in the Rocky Mountains, which creates a knot of inner turmoil in my gut. The evenings feel hopeless, like we’ll be stuck in a perpetual freeze, never to see the sun again. Some people call this cabin fever. Others just ignore the passage of time, knowing that the groundhog saw his shadow, and that a wave of optimism could propel us towards spring at any moment. But I’m not so quick to move on from the winter’s tragedy.
Music brings comfort
I’m feeling sorry for myself when my phone pings. It’s one of my group chats. A friend of mine is having a bad day, and he’s turning to music to help him process the agony of his existential questions. It’s Rachmaninoff to the rescue.
When he says as much, a ping of joy hits me. I love Rachmaninoff. During particularly challenging chapters, I play his Concerto No. 2 in C Minor on repeat, feeling less alone in his dark cavern of sound.
My home was filled with classical music for the first 20 years of my life. In the same way that some people look to exercise or make similar lifestyle choices to manage their sorrow, I learned to look to music. It was in the harmonies and complexities of the sounds that I found the most comfort throughout my formative years. And there are few classical pianists that can enter the human soul during its greatest state of turmoil. But Rachmaninoff is one of them.
I acquired my appreciation for music from my parents, who studied piano and clarinet throughout college. Mom continues to teach piano lessons today. Although Dad doesn’t usually play anymore, he does have an intimate relationship with the record player that sits in the corner of the living room.
Dad gave up music a long time before his Parkinson’s diagnosis, but it still plays a significant role in his life. His choice of records changes with the season. After Christmas, Andy Williams takes a back seat to more classical tunes. In the summer, lighthearted music tends to fill the living room. And I can’t help but wonder if music provides some emotional relief for Dad on his hard days.
While I imagine what my dad’s life is like, I picture his small figure in his rocking chair while the record player runs. He sat in the same chair to listen to my at-home piano performances. No matter what he was doing, he’d stop as soon as he heard the spruce keys emit their first sounds. And, even as time passes, I find myself feeling grateful for the power that music has exerted over all of our lives.
Music and Parkinson's symptoms
There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that singing or playing an instrument can help to ease some Parkinson’s symptoms. Music lights up different parts of the brain, potentially impacting things like memory, feeling, and cognition.1
Research also shows that music can even positively impact motor skills in Parkinson’s patients. And I like to think that my family’s love of music supports Dad’s health on a day to day basis – even if he doesn’t play anymore. I know it supports mine.2
So, even when the black abyss hits the mountains for months on end, there’s still comfort to be found when the first notes rumble, reminding me of the existence of music.
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