A recent study suggests that weekly dance training with music may be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease who are experiencing the most debilitating symptoms.
The study, published in the journal ‘Brain Sciences,’ discovered that patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease (PD) can slow their disease’s progression by participating in one-and-a-quarter hours of dance training with music each week. Over a three-year period, this activity was found to reduce daily motor issues such as balance and speech, which frequently result in social isolation.
According to c, senior author, principal investigator, and associate professor of psychology at York University, and PhD candidate Karolina Bearss, people with Parkinson’s disease (PwPD) who participated in weekly dance training had less motor impairment and demonstrated significant improvement in areas such as speech, tremors, balance, and rigidity when compared to those who did not participate.
Their findings indicated significant improvements in daily-life experiences such as cognitive impairment, hallucinations, depression, and anxious moods such as sadness.
Overall, the study found that non-motor aspects of daily living, motor experiences of daily living, motor examination symptoms, and motor complications remained unaffected over time in the dance-trained PwPD group compared to non-dance-trained PwPD.
The study is the first of its kind to follow PwPD over a three-year period while they participate in weekly dance with music, providing additional insight into the nature of motor and non-motor PD symptoms progression.
“It appears as though the experience of performing and being in a studio environment with dance instructors benefits these individuals,” DeSouza said.
“What we do know is that dance activates brain areas in those without Parkinson’s disease. Even mild motor impairment can have an effect on daily functioning and self-esteem in those with Parkinson’s disease. Many of these motor symptoms result in isolation, as these individuals become unwilling to leave their homes when they reach an extreme.
These motor symptoms exacerbate psychological problems such as depression and social isolation, and the symptoms eventually worsen. Our study demonstrates that dance and music training can help to slow this process and improve their daily living and function “DeSouza continued.
The research’s objective was to develop a long-term neurorehabilitation strategy for treating PD symptoms. The researchers examined how a multisensory activity (such as dancing with music) that incorporated the use and stimulation of multiple sensory modalities in the dance environment — including vision, audition, tactile perception, proprioception, kinesthesia, social organisation and expression, olfactory, vestibular, and balance control — may influence a variety of mood, cognitive, and behavioural variables.
The researchers collected data from PwPD for three and a half years while learning and performing choreography that is adaptable to the disease stage and current symptoms of PwPD.
Between October 2014 and November 2017, 16 participants with mild-to-moderate PD (11 males, five females) with an average age of 69 were tested. They were matched for age and disease severity.
Each participant attended a 1.25-hour dance class at the National Ballet School of Canada (NBS) and Trinity St. Paul’s church locations. Dancers engaged in aerobic and anaerobic dance exercises.
This group was then compared to 16 non-dance PwPD participants (the reference group), who were selected from a larger PwPD cohort as part of the Parkinson’s Progression Marker Initiative (PPMI), a longitudinal research project funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and related funding partners.
Classes began with a seated warm-up accompanied by live music, progressed to barre work, and concluded with movement across the floor. All participants received choreography instruction in preparation for an upcoming performance. The researchers filmed all participants, administered paper and pen questionnaires to all participants, and conducted statistical analyses.
“Dance is extremely complex; it’s a multi-sensory environment,” Bearss explained.
Bearss continued, “It engages and stimulates your auditory, tactile, visual, and kinesthetic senses, while also incorporating an interactive social component. Exercise on a regular basis does not provide these benefits. There is so much more dancing to be done.”
The researchers will then look at what happens in the brain immediately before and after a dance class to ascertain any neurological changes that occur.
“At the moment, there is no precise intervention for Parkinson’s disease, and the most common treatments are pharmacological interventions, but there are few options for alternate exercises or additional interventions to challenge their brains,” DeSouza explained.
“Hopefully, this data will shed light on additional treatments options for this group and will be incorporated into the treatment process. There may be changes in the brain associated with dancing to music, but additional research is required “DeSouza concluded.
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