Music supports physiotherapy in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease

In a Nazareth College building, a second-floor room is filled with clapping, stomping — and a soulful rendition of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

However, it’s not a concert – it’s physical therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease.

“I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m looking for solutions to Parkinson’s,” said John Robinson, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2017.

He found a solution in attending these therapy clinics once a week.

Raquel Stephan



Parkinson’s patient John Robinson is assisted by two physical therapy students at Nazareth College.

“That’s one of the things about Parkinson’s — you have to move,” he said.

According to the Parkinson Foundation, increasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours per week can slow the progression of the disease. Adding music to the exercise helps improve the quality of exercise by increasing endurance and elevating mood.

Robinson said he’s not really a music person, but the rhythm drives him to do more.

“With the music you have a beat going, songs you recognize, and with that recognition, I’m able to move my legs better because I’m trying to walk with a beat,” he said.

Students from the college’s Health and Human Service School run the clinic at the York Wellness and Rehabilitation Institute and are supervised by faculty members. The music therapy students play the instruments and lead the sing-alongs while the physical therapy students choreograph the movements.

Parkinson's Clinic 02

Raquel Stephan



Parkinson’s patients at Nazareth College perform arm movements as part of therapy.

“Our students are using their skills, developing their skills while serving members of the community,” said Catherine Rasmussen, interim dean of health and human services. She said the clinics are here to serve the Rochester community – particularly those who are uninsured or underinsured.

“If someone has a medical condition that our students are willing to work with, we can add them to our clinic rosters and see them on a semester basis,” she added.


Raquel Stephan



Parkinson’s patient Tom Krieger warms up in the Parkinson’s Clinic at Nazareth College.

More than 15,000 patients attend Nazareth Clinics each academic year, and more than a third of the college’s enrollments are students pursuing degrees in health and social sciences. That number includes Jamai Thomas, a first-year graduate student in the physical therapy program. He is co-leader of the exercise part of the dual clinic.

“It’s important to us to make sure they enjoy it and that we improve it over time,” said Thomas.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, therapy sessions were moved online. Now that some things are personal again, music therapy student MacKenzie Lyons said it’s much more rewarding to see clients progress, partly because of the music.

“Once we add music, it just makes the whole environment more comfortable,” Lyons said.

Tom Krieger can confirm that. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just over two years ago and attended his third session at the clinic.

“As long as I exercise, I’m fine. That’s the important part,” Krieger said.

Krieger, a former radio operator, says the music portion of therapy makes him nostalgic. It’s also the part that cheers him up and has a lot to do with the progress he’s making, he said.

“It gets me to a point where I’m at my limit,” Krieger said.

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