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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 seniors

By Tucker Sutherland, editor,

Senior citizens dancing to fight Parkinson's Disease

Watch video for better understanding of program for PD

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 PD group.

One clear risk factor for Parkinson's is age. The average age of onset is 60 years and the risk rises significantly with advancing age.


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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 have Parkinson’s.

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 group.

About Parkinson’s Disease - MedlinePlus

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 role.

  ● 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 diagnose it.

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 control movement.

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Parkinson's Disease (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

About Parkinson’s Disease (NIH/SeniorHealth)

“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 clinical trial.

“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.

Other 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 disease. View 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 several measures.

Conclusions: Tango may target deficits associated with PD more than Waltz/Foxtrot, but both dances may benefit balance and locomotion.

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