and Medicine for Seniors
Dance helps people with Parkinson’s, maybe healthy
senior citizens, too
Ballroom dancing could help people with Parkinson’s
improve their balance and mobility, and maybe do the same for other
Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com
Dec. 4, 2014 – Researchers at the University of
Southhampton, UK, recently announced that participants in their study
who had Parkinson’s and took part in ballroom dance lessons improved
their balance, confidence and posture. They are not the first to
discover that dancing can make life better and safer for Parkinson’s
patients, who are also almost exclusively senior citizens. Maybe seniors
without PD should also consider how this exercise reduced falls in the
One clear risk factor for Parkinson's is age. The
average age of onset is 60 years and the risk rises significantly with
In one year, a third of people over 65 will have a
fall, but two thirds of people with Parkinson’s will experience a fall.
After an initial fall, or if people start to be unsteady, they could
develop a fear of falling which will then have an impact on their
mobility and result in reliance on a caregiver or a healthcare service.
Reducing falls for PD patients and senior citizens can increase
confidence, prevent injuries and reduce costs.
Researchers at Southampton have been conducting the
study to test the feasibility of evaluating the effects of ballroom
dancing on the mobility of people who have the progressive, neurological
condition that has no cure.
Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that leads
to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and
coordination. It affects about half a million people in the United
States although the numbers may be much higher. About 60,000 Americans
are diagnosed with Parkinson's each year.
Both men and women can have Parkinson’s disease.
However, the disease affects about 50 percent more men than women.
It is estimated that 6.3 million people worldwide
Treatments are focused on reducing symptoms,
however the risk of falling is high which can lead to serious injury.
Studies into the benefits of other dances such as
the Argentine tango or ballet on Parkinson’s have previously been
conducted by others. (See other studies below this news story).
Professor Ann Ashburn, who led the Southampton research, chose
ballroom dancing because it would enable people with Parkinson’s to
dance with a partner and would encourage them to think about heel
strike, coordination of movement whilst turning, balance control and
greater step length, all of which are therapeutic goals.
During the study, funded by the
National Institute for Health
Research (NIHR), Research for Patient Benefit program, people
who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s attended dance classes twice a
week for 10 weeks. Their mobility is measured at the start of the study
and at three and six months to test the feasibility of providing dance
classes and to measure the effects. Results were compared to a control
About Parkinson’s Disease -
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a type of
movement disorder. It happens when nerve cells in the brain
don't produce enough of a brain chemical called dopamine.
Sometimes it is genetic, but most cases do not seem to run in
families. Exposure to chemicals in the environment might play a
● Symptoms begin gradually, often on one side of the body.
Later they affect both sides. They include
● Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
● Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
● Slowness of movement
● Poor balance and coordination
As symptoms get worse, people with the disease may have trouble
walking, talking, or doing simple tasks. They may also have
problems such as depression, sleep problems, or trouble chewing,
swallowing, or speaking.
There is no lab test for PD, so it can be difficult to diagnose.
Doctors use a medical history and a neurological examination to
PD usually begins around age 60, but it can start earlier. It is
more common in men than in women. There is no cure for PD. A
variety of medicines sometimes help symptoms dramatically.
Surgery and deep brain stimulation (DBS) can help severe cases.
With DBS, electrodes are surgically implanted in the brain. They
send electrical pulses to stimulate the parts of the brain that
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
(National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
About Parkinson’s Disease
“We were not expecting to find large differences
between the groups in this small study which was designed to test
procedures but we discovered that people who had previously fallen,
those who had Parkinson’s for longer and men, appeared to benefit most
from the dance in terms of their balance, their confidence and posture,”
said Professor Ashburn.
“Participants valued and enjoyed the dance classes
enormously and talked of the pleasure they gained from mixing with other
people. We have successfully demonstrated that it is feasible to
conduct, in the future a larger research study with greater numbers of
people involved and produce stronger findings reflecting the way dance
is taught in different parts of the country.”
She now hopes to increase the study to a nationwide
“People with Parkinson’s tend to turn in a rigid
way; in other words they turn their head, neck, upper body, pelvis and
legs at the same time, making them unsteady,” says Ashburn.
“Dancing involves turning and stepping to a
rhythmical beat from the music, which can help to improve their
mobility. The principles behind the dancing - people have to move their
feet, turn their bodies and take big steps – were carefully chosen to
enhance what clinicians are doing during rehabilitation.
“We hope that in the future this might become
something that people can participate in through their local support
groups and enhance treatment regimes.”
>> See the
video for more about the
ballroom dancing program at Southhampton.
Studies About Dancing as Help for Parkinson's Disease
Combating disease with dance: a new approach to Parkinson’s
July 2, 2013 - On Monday
afternoons, The Juilliard School in Manhattan hosts a different breed of
dancers. Their bodies are slower and less limber; their movements lack
fluidity. Yet the dancers execute each little gesture with determination
and purpose, and their faces shine with a fresh enthusiasm that has
often waned in seasoned professionals. These dancers have Parkinson’s
CNN Video Report
Website dedicated to promoting dance for PD patients
A website dedicated just to dance as a benefit for
Parkinson’s Disease patients –
Dance for PD, is
sponsored by Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I am awed by the power of dance to transform and alleviate pain.
Despite the steady advance of Parkinson’s, we show up. We move. We
laugh. We share our best selves,”
says Patricia Needle, Dance for PD participant, Berkeley, CA
(Hear more of Patricia’s perspective
here.) Check out
Dance for PD.
Study by Madeleine
E. Hackney, Gammon M. Earhart, May 2009
The purpose of this study was to compare the
effects of tango, waltz/foxtrot and no intervention on functional motor
control in individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. Both dance groups
improved more than the Control group, which did not improve.
Tango and Waltz/Foxtrot significantly improved on
the Berg Balance Scale, six minute walk distance, and backward stride
length. Tango improved as much or more than those in Waltz/Foxtrot on
Conclusions: Tango may target deficits
associated with PD more than Waltz/Foxtrot, but both dances may benefit
balance and locomotion.