Effects of musically cued gait training in Parkinson’s disease

Auditory stimulation via rhythmic cues can be used successfully in the rehabilitation of motor function in individuals with motor disorders. A prototypical example is provided by dysfunctional gait in patients with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (PD). Coupling steps to external rhythmic cues (the beat of music or the sounds of a metronome) results in long-term motor improvements, such as increased walking speed and greater stride length. These effects are likely to be underpinned by compensatory brain mechanisms involving cerebellar-thalamocortical networks. Because these areas are also involved in perceptual and motor timing, parallel improvement in timing tasks is expected in PD beyond purely motor benefits. In keeping with this idea, recent behavioral data showing beneficial effects of musically cued gait training (MCGT) on gait performance (i.e., increased stride length and speed), perceptual timing (e.g., discriminating stimulus durations), and sensorimotor timing abilities (i.e., in paced tapping tasks) in PD patients is reported here. Special attention is paid to individual differences in timing abilities in PD, thus laying the foundation for an individualized MCGT-based therapy.