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Music therapy for Parkinson's sufferers Naveen Mathew (New Straits Times) - 9 December 2010

Music therapy for Parkinson's sufferers

By Naveen Mathew (

KUALA LUMPUR: There was music. There was laughter. There was fun and a lot of banter.

With Kalani, an internationally acclaimed renown singer and percussionist working his magic at the show, this is only to be expected.

But, what made it something out of the ordinary was that the audience comprised mainly Parkinson's disease sufferers. Kalani, along with his musician-business friend Bill Lewis, visited the National Parkinson's Disease Centre to cheer up the patients by entertaining them.

Like a scene reminiscent of a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie, where old folks of a retirement home young are made to feel young at heart, folks at the centre in Happy Garden fell under the charms of Kalani and Lewis.

The duo somehow did the seemingly impossible including getting managed to get even the less responsive patients to join in the fun.

The more agile ones were soon up and dancing, while others played musical instruments that were passed around.

Participants waving their hands in the air, following the moves of Kalani (centre) in a spirit of fun and togetherness. (Picture by Syarafig Abd Samad) Bill Lewis jamming on his ukulele to entertain members at the Parkinson's centre. Some of the members bonding as they sing and laugh together. The lady behind the veil is Sally Teh, a carer to her husband, Ivan Lim.

Kalani, who dazzled the audience by playing one of the world's smallest musical instruments, the ukelele and a variety of other instruments, was truly in his element.

Funny songs were sung by him and Lewis, prompting much laughter that was contagious.

Kalani, who lives in Los Angeles, had come from the City of Angels for a conference in KL Kuala Lumpur recently. He volunteered to share the joy of music-oriented activities and the philosophy of Developmental Community Music (DCM), which he founded to those help those with Parkinson's Disease and their families.

DCM considers inclusion, cooperation and appreciation as crucial factors for creating highly-functional communities among people with disabilities like Parkinson's Disease.

Kalani, who is also a music therapist, educator, composer, author and presenter, has worked with Yanni and other famous singers like such as Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow and Santana.

"We are here to help bring some music, laughter and joy to the Parkinson's community, so that they can get to know each other a little bit better and to just have some fun.

"When you sing, laugh and play together, you form a stronger sense of community, increasing creativity and boosting your sense of selfworth," said Kalani .

When asked why laughter was so important, he said "well on a physiological level, it increases oxygen supply to the body and the brain, which is important for wellness.

"Also, many of the sufferers have very decreased vocal capacity. They speak in whispers and this could be due to decreased lung capacity. Laughter is a way to help increase their vocalisation.

"When we laugh we make a loud sound, and this increases lung capacity, expands the diaphragm, uses muscles and increases oxygen in the blood and the brain.

"Parkinson's is a degenerative disease. There is no cure for it at the moment. Patients with this condition have decreased motor functions, intellectual capacity and memory loss, and among others.

What we do in music therapy is to maintain the level of the body's functioning as long as possible, as well as condition the body and mind, among others.

"For example, even singing a familiar song and repeating a song can help someone retain their memory," he explained.

"I created DCM 10 years ago.

"DCM uses music, songs, play and dances.

Its goals are the same as music therapy. But while DCM is open to anybody, music therapy is only carried out by music therapists with college degrees.

"A big part of DCM is improvisation. So, I always encourage my facilitators to give me a word or movement and we use that we can use in our sessions.

"It's not like a music class where perform music that is already popular. You must create it on the spot," he said.

The Parkinson's centre at 35, Jalan Nyaman 10, Happy Garden, off Old Klang Road, spreads awareness about the disease and serves as a place where those with the disease come together for weekly activities.

Read more: Music therapy for Parkinson's sufferers