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Dancing to Better Health with Parkinson’s Disease

Written by Alexandra Fuhs

Edited by Sharon Park and Shania Sheth


Hi everyone! Ending our Arts in Medicine series is this article by Alexandra, which shows how dancing can help treat and limit the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease! We hope you learn how dance alleviates symptoms of Parkinson's and can therefore lead to better patient outcomes.

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What is Parkinson’s Disease?



Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that results in uncontrollable movements such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty balancing. PD develops when dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra brain region die, affecting movement control. Early signs such as a lack of facial expressions are often mild and go unnoticed, though symptoms worsen over time and as the disease progresses patients may have difficulty walking and talking. Currently, there are no diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s, so it is usually diagnosed with a neurological examination performed by a physician where they test agility, muscle tone, gait, and balance and consult a checklist of common symptoms. There are no cures as of now, but treatments include dopamine-boosting medicine to decrease the number of dopamine-producing cells dying. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended. The most popular type of surgery for those with PD is deep-brain stimulation (DBS), where a surgeon places thin metal wires in the brain that send electrical signals to the brain to control motor symptoms.



Though treatment options for Parkinson’s disease are improving, many do not fully address the gait and balance issues that many patients deal with. However, dance has grown in popularity as an exercise for those with Parkinson’s due to it being able to teach specific movement strategies, provide external cues, and improve balance. Dance classes for those with Parkinson’s are offered around the world, and many follow the Dance for PD model — where “teaching artists integrate movement from modern, ballet, tap, folkloric, traditional and social dancing, and choreographic repertory to engage participants’ minds and bodies and create an enjoyable, social environment for artistic exploration.”



The Benefits of Dance

Dance has been identified as an excellent form of exercise for those with Parkinson’s because it addresses multiple recommended components of an exercise plan for Parkinson’s. As it’s an activity performed to music, the music serves as an external cue to aid with a patient’s gait. Dance includes the teaching of specific movement strategies, such as walking backward toe-to-heel, and provides balance exercises. In addition to addressing these components, dance can improve strength, flexibility, and provide emotional connections with others in the class.



As well as the physical benefits, the social opportunities that come with being part of a regularly-meeting group is valuable to those with Parkinson’s. Many Parkinson’s patients are older and may not be part of a groups that regularly socializes. Regular dance classes can boost their mood, provide an opportunity to build friendships, and allow them to connect with others who suffer from the same condition, and share resources.



The style of dance most prominently researched in exercise programs for those with Parkinson’s is the tango, which targets impairments in those with PD such as walking backward, starting and stopping, and changing tempo. Other forms of dance such as Irish step dancing, Turkish folkloric dance, and the waltz have also shown to be particularly beneficial. Formal programs such as Dance for PD and Zumba provide a guided, low-impact approach to group dance and require no previous dance experience.


Irish Step Dancing


Limits of Dance

Dancing is not a one-off solution to Parkinson’s disease. If patients stop the exercise program, the beneficial effects will wear off within a few weeks to months, meaning regular movement is key. There also hasn’t been a lot of research into dance as an exercise program for those with Parkinson’s, meaning many questions still need to be answered:



How do different dance styles affect the results?


How often do people need to dance for optimal results?


Does the type of music affect the results?


However, even without knowing the answer to all these questions, the many benefits that have already been observed in alleviating motor and non-motor symptoms provide ample evidence that there’s no harm in those with Parkinson’s (and those without!) giving dance a try as a fun, relaxed form of exercise.



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We hope you enjoyed this article and learned about how different dance forms can help improve the prognosis of patients suffering from Parkinson's Disease!


If you enjoyed this article, check out our previous art by Eden, which covered how art can help improve mental health, linked here.


Thanks for reading, and please be on the lookout for our next series on Perinatal Pathology!


Until next time,

Alexandra and the Writing Committee :)


References:

  1. NIH. “Dance as Therapy for Individuals with Parkinson Disease”, June 2009.

  1. Physio-Pedia. “Parkinson’s and Dance”.

  1. BioRXIV. “A High Dose Tango Intervention for People with Parkinson’ disease (PwPD)”, 18 April 2019.

  1. Parkinson'sDisease. “Dancing Your Way to a Better Quality of Life with Parkinson’s”, 16 August 2019, Kathi MacNaughton.

  1. Forbes. “Dancing Helps People with Parkinson’s Disease”. Science, 30 April 2019, Eva Amsen.












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1 commentaire


medicalmarvels
medicalmarvels
03 août 2022

Well written article, Alexandra! It was extremely creative and interesting to read.

- The Founders of Medical Marvels

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