How the Arts Can Help You Live Well with Parkinson’s

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report that highlights how engagement with the arts improves mental and physical health, including for people with Parkinson’s. By delving into 900 publications from the last 19 years, the report found that participation in arts programs effectively improves the health of a variety of different populations. People with neurological, neurodegenerative, and acute conditions, namely people with Parkinson’s, especially benefitted from adding arts programs to their care plans.

The authors of the study, Daisy Fancourt and Saoirse Finn, found that engaging with art improves mental and physical health in two distinct areas: (1) prevention of ill health/promotion of good health and (2) management/treatment of illnesses across people’s lifespans. They also discovered that within those fields, the arts can:

  • Affect social determinants of health, including social cohesion (building a community by increasing social bonding through the arts) and social inequalities (making the arts available to underserved groups)
  • Promote behaviors and activities that improve health, like staying active, eating healthfully, and avoiding drugs
  • Act as barriers against poor health by improving wellbeing and reducing cognitive decline
  • Bolster caregiving by improving clinical skills and reducing caregiver burnout
  • Aid people with mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and psychosis
  • Reinforce care for people with neurodevelopmental, neurological, and acute conditions (including Parkinson’s and dementia)
  • Help manage and control non-infectious diseases
  • Assist with palliative and end-of-life care

People with Parkinson’s experience a wide range of symptoms, but the report demonstrates that engaging in the arts, whether through dance, music, painting, writing, or even appreciating art that others have created, can help with a variety of both motor and non-motor symptoms.

SINGING AND DANCING YOUR WAY TO BETTER HEALTH

Using Dance for PD® as a global model, the report found that singing and dancing, in particular, have significant impacts on the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s:

“Dance involves basal ganglia structures, activating similar neurological pathways to regular exercise, and also supports the psychological state by enhancing the concentration of serotonin. Improvements have been found in balance, gait speed and functional mobility. […] Dance studies involving people with PD have also typically shown high compliance rates, low dropout and continued activity beyond the study period. Relatedly, rhythmic auditory cueing with music also appeared to benefit gait and stride length and reduced the risk of falls. […] Singing can help to reduce the symptoms of weak or hoarse voice in people with PD, and reduce imprecise articulation or impaired stress or rhythm in speech. Preliminary research has also shown the benefits of singing for swallowing in people with PD. […] Singing has been found to improve quality of life and reduce depression in people with PD; music therapy has been found to improve quality of life in people with motor neuron disease; and dance has been found to improve quality of life and decrease isolation in people with PD.”

The evidence, therefore, indicates that involving the arts in your day-to-day life undeniably improves quality of life in a number of areas.

SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO TO INCORPORATE THE RESULTS OF THIS RESEARCH INTO YOUR OWN LIFE?

It may be easier than you think to fit the arts in with your existing lifestyle. For example, you can supplement or replace your daily walk with an online dance class once a week, start keeping a journal, or do some drawing to help you unwind before bed.

Perhaps you can change your regular walking route so you end up at a local museum or statue garden, or even just start listening to music while you go about your daily activities.

You can also find resources on our website, including articles about why dance for Parkinson’s is more than just exercise and how music therapy can help you live well with Parkinson’s. Or, you can follow along with one of our Ambassadors as she performs a dance she composed to a poem written by another person with Parkinson’s.

WANT MORE WAYS TO ENJOY THE ARTS THIS FALL WHILE STAYING HEALTHY AT HOME?

Watch poetry performances by Wayne A. Gilbert, who has been living with Parkinson’s since 2005. Take a Dance for PD class live on Zoom or via a recorded session, or see why people are falling in love with AmySaysDance classes. Take a virtual museum tourSing along to your favorite songs. Hone your photography skills—with a smartphone, everyone can be a photographer! Read a good book. Stream an opera from your own living room. By incorporating the arts–whether creating your own or appreciating others’–you can raise your joy and improve your quality of life.

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