Yet I have persevered, and it is now four years since my return to the piano and I now play for an hour most days. It is a time when I am absorbed in what I am doing. I do not beat myself up if I have a bad day. I remind myself that it is therapy and it matters more that I play not how I play. At first, I had only hoped that practicing each day would mean that I could maintain my albeit limited ability in the face of a degenerative disease, but in fact I have found some of my former ability returning. The progress has been slow and has been more visible by comparing years than months. It has taken a lot of dogged determination. So why do I think this improvement might be happening?
I explain in my book, “Music is Medicine particularly in Parkinson’s”, how, when we listen to music, many areas of our brain are activated and I believe that, when I play, my brain could be using an alternative neural pathway to take the place of the one which, in Parkinson’s, is not working efficiently. Researchers have found that this is what happens when a person with Parkinson’s uses music to step to when they walk or dance. I started walking with music several years ago and it has certainly felt easier.
A few years ago, I began having problems with my speaking voice. I also developed problems swallowing. Drinking water would result in my coughing because some had gone the wrong way. Music once again came to my rescue, this time in the form of singing and most days I either sing with exercises on YouTube or I sing along with a playlist of my favourite songs. The good news is that you can make a less than pleasant sound and be completely out of tune, but it will still strengthen the muscles that look after your voice and swallowing. I am delighted to say that my speaking voice is now strong and loud, and I rarely cough when swallowing.
I listen to music through much of my day. It lifts my spirits, and slow music helps reduce any feelings of anxiety I have. It also prepares me for a better night’s sleep and is preferable to watching the news at this current time!
In March this year, a few days before self-isolation, I threw a party. I had reached ten years since my diagnosis and I wanted to give thanks that I was doing so well. There is no doubt that music has helped in many ways. It has helped me walk with a better gait, strengthen my voice and my swallowing, it has calmed me when I’ve felt anxious and lifted my spirits when I’ve felt down, and playing the piano has given me a means of self-expression. I am truly blessed.
“Music as Medicine particularly in Parkinson’s” by Daphne Bryan PhD is out now and is published by Clink Street.