In the words of Neurologist Dr. Katie Kompoliti, a specialist in movement disorders, “at present, the very best therapies we have for Parkinson’s can only mask the symptoms – they do not alter the underlying disease,” For more than two decades, the pinnacle of Parkinson’s research is finding a treatment or procedure that slow the pace of this degenerative disease; and to date, there is no cure for it.
Although science and medicine have advanced tremendously in improving the life of PD patients, the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease is not known. Alternative approaches are currently being tested in order to understand the nature of Parkinson’s and its causes. As an example, numerous modern experiments have explored and revealed a connection between Music and its quality to restore movement and to improve the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients. Thus, a new threshold where music and science integrate could bring a better understanding of this ancient human disease. Hence, the aim of my paper is to suggest a future where the connection of my research (and others) to an engineering project could result in a device whose structure and programming reflect the application of Music and the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease and its treatments have been described as early as 5000 BC in India. In a nutshell, this progressive neurodegenerative disease is characterized by its “cardinal symptoms of bradykinesia, rigidity, postural instability, and resting tumor.”Scott, M. Brown, Danna. (2009). Parkinson’s Disease: A Review. Drug Topics: 153, 8. Immobility is usually the terminal cause of death, resulting in pneumonia or pulmonary embolism. The deterioration of the dopamine cells in the substancia nigra is the most common cause of Parkinson’s. “Patients may report difficulty with activities such as brushing their teeth or lasting buttons. Finger -and toe- tapping are typically slow and show an irregular pattern with repetition.”(Drug Topics) Generally speaking, when the arm, the leg or hand is at rest tremor occurs; when voluntary movement is involved the condition improves. Some other symptoms linked to neurotransmitter abnormalities may take place in Parkinson’s patients. Such is the case of depression, dementia, sleep disturbances, and psychosis. (Drug Topics)
During the last summer I had the privilege to work and conduct some musical experiments under the supervision of the School of Medical Sciences in Costa Rica with Mr. Olman Piedra, a 67 year old medical doctor who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease around seven years ago. His wife, a dedicated woman who gives special care to him, describes Dr.Piedras’ condition:”Mi esposo, el Dr Olman Piedra sufre de Parkinson hace más o menos 7 años. En la actualidad tiene un temblor en la mano izquierda; a veces es lento, pero cuando se siente estresado, este temblor se manifiesta más rápidamente. Presenta inestabilidad cuando se apoya en la pierna izquierda, y al poner su peso en la pierna derecha, la inestabilidad desaparece. Por las noches, sueña de manera brusca y estira las manos y piernas con fuerza, aunque no se percata de ello. Acostumbre hablar durante el sueño y su voz suena clara y fuerte, como cuando no tenía la enfermedad. Durante el día su voz es muy tenue, en algunas ocasiones más que en otras. Generalmente está de buen humor y no manifiesta angustia por su situación. Durante el día hace bastante ejercicio como por ejemplo, barrer la casa, sin embargo rápidamente sus músculos se tensan y tiene que reposar un rato.”
“My husband, Dr Olman Piedra has suffered of Parkinson’s disease for about seven years. His left hand has a tremor; rather slower, but the tremor becomes faster when he is under stress. He looses balance when his weight lays on his left leg, but he recovers stability when weight lays on the right leg. He stretches his arms and legs abruptly during sleep time, although he is not aware of it. Also, he talks while asleep, and his voice just as clear and strong as when we was healthy. His voice is soft during the daytime. He is generally in a good mood and does not complain about his condition. His daily exercise includes domestic activities; however, his muscles get stressed by this and then he takes a rest for a while.”
In a series of recorded experiments that I conducted on Mr. Piedra, he describes that some days he is “incapable of initiating movement”. I could corroborate his statement on a particular day when his speech was significantly slower. Previously to our session of music, I started by throwing a ball to his chest, which he could catch and return with no major difficulties; however, if asked to initiate a particular movement, the process was slower.