Dancing to Music May Help Halt Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Lyrics have always delivered the most powerful “cure” for all the good, the bad and often unbearable moments in life, but there may be added benefits to taking the music listening up a notch—and dancing. Researchers from the York University in Canada investigated how regular dance can impact the physical and psychological symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in a recent study published in Brain Sciences.

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The study found the dancing to music can pause the progression of Parkinson’s Disease, a condition that worsens over time affecting movement, including difficulty walking, shakiness, stiffness and imbalance, and degenerative neurological issues, such as memory loss and trouble speaking. 

Using weekly dance classes, researchers recruited 16 individuals, who had mild cases of Parkinson’s around the age of 69 between 2014 and 2017, and studied how the regular practice impacted their motor and non-motor symptoms long term. Classes typically lasted 1.25 hours and crossed various aerobic and anaerobic dance forms, including tap, folk, modern, and ballet.

“Generally, what we know is that dance activates brain areas in those without PD,” said Joseph DeSouza, senior author, principal investigator and associate professor in the Department of Psychology at York University, in a statement. “For those with Parkinson’s disease, even mild motor impairment can impact their daily functioning—how they feel about themselves.”

For many PD patients, motor impairment can lead to isolation, adds DeSouza, because people will avoid going out. “These motor symptoms lead to further psychological issues, depression, social isolation and eventually the symptoms do get worse over time,” he says. “Our study shows that training with dance and music can slow this down and improve their daily living and daily function.”

Researchers also followed an additional 16 individuals who didn’t participate in dance classes from the Parkinson’s Progression Marker Initiative to compare symptom severity over the three-year study period. Generally, motor deterioration is the most prevalent in PD patients with the first five years of being diagnosed. Those participating in regular dance had a significant improvement in tremors, balance, and speech as opposed to the non-dance group, which saw no change in psychological or movement symptoms within the same period.

Additionally, these study concluded that participants’ motor functions would mostly likely remain the same following 5 years of dance. Other elements of the dance class were noted their contribution to improved PD symptoms including the socialization, which can have a positive effect over time.

“Currently there is no precise intervention with PD and usual remedies are pharmacological interventions, but not many options are given for alternate exercises or additional interventions to push their brains,” said DeSouza. “Hopefully this data will shed light on additional therapies for this group and be used in the treatment process. There may be changes in the brain that occur with dance with music, but more research is necessary.”

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