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Dance class aims to benefit dementia and Parkinson's patients

Doctor holding stethoscope
Posted at 9:40 AM, Jul 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-05 10:40:39-04

More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease and at least half a million suffer from Parkinson's. Now researchers are looking at how dance instead of drugs may help these patients stay active!

This is not your typical dance class. Most of the participants have Parkinson's and other neuro-degenerative diseases.

"I think movement, specifically dance, is an incredibly powerful, non-pharmacological intervention," says Christina Soriano, Associate Professor of Dance, Wake Forest University.

Wake Forest University conducts this class as part of a study to determine if dance can benefit these patients.

"I always say change is the only constant and so as we age we need to be practicing change," continued Soriano.

Soriano provides prompts instead of specific dance instruction so everyone moves at their own ability.

Christina Hugenschmidt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center stated, "The preliminary results from our pilot study show that there was increased connectivity in certain brain regions. Those changes correlated with changes in balance and also decreased apathy and decreased depressive symptoms."

Eunice Benson has had Parkinson's for 15 years and says this class changed her life.

"I walk with a cane sometimes, but since I've been doing this, I don't have to," Benson shared.

Janie Petersen says it helps with tremors and stiffness and she can bring her husband john who has severe rheumatoid arthritis.

"So that he can participate and move too," exclaimed Petersen.

Not only is this improvisational dance helping with balance and mobility … it's also keeping patients socially engaged.

"You feel like you've accomplished something," said patient, Jim Clark.

Keeping Parkinson's patients moving in the right direction. This class is part of a three-year randomized trial funded by the National Institutes of Health. In that trial, the control group plays party games while the other group dances.

The researchers are developing an app that would allow homebound patients to take part in the improvisational dance.