Study Looks at Dance as Therapy for Parkinson’s Patients

Study Looks at Dance as Therapy for Parkinson’s Patients

Posted on February 26, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Caregiver Education, Education, Home Care Non-Medical, Independent Living, Long Term Care Information, Mobility / Wheelchair, Parkinson’s Disease, Senior Center

Dance as a therapeutic tool for Parkinson’s patiets – that is the focus of a collaboration between the University of Calgary, Parkinson Alberta and Decidely Jazz Danceworks. About 45 Parkinson’s patients were tested before beginning 18 – 1 hour long dance classes to see how dancing could improve motor function and dealing day to day with the debilitating disease.

By: Michael Wright – Calgary Herald

“He’s got his dancing shoes on!

“He always wears those dancing shoes.”

Eighty-six-year-old George Adam has walked into Studio B at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks to considerable acclaim.

He dances a quick shuffle in the direction of his admirer, raising his arms in the air and flashing a pair of shiny black Oxfords, ready for dance class.

His laces are undone, though. As the class assembles in their chairs, Adam’s wife Lois bends down and ties them up. Her husband’s right hand doesn’t stop shaking.

Adam is one of 40 Parkinson’s disease patients dancing their way through a six-month therapy program at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. A combined effort by the dance company, the University of Calgary, a Lethbridge neuroscientist and Parkinson Alberta, it aims to improve patients’ motor skills and spark a lust for life.

It seems to be working. Most of the class made it in this week despite the freezing weather.

“Something’s happening,” says Anne Flynn, a program co-ordinator and dance professor at the U of C.

“The cumulative effect of coming back every week is definitely starting to show itself.”

Flynn leads off the class with something resembling a seated callisthenics session, and soon a mini-transformation unfolds. The forest of raised arms seems more nimble and agile than earlier. Adam’s shaking hand has stopped shaking.

“People are settling in (and) they’re increasing their skill level,” Flynn says.

“We can look at changes taking place in people. Things like their balance — their ability to walk forward and backward better, side to side.

“Moving through space, memorizing movement sequences, all of these things create a lot of liveliness in the brain.”

The course started in October, and participants will be assessed when it finishes in April. A $10,000 grant from the Rozsa Foundation made the program possible, helping pay for chairs and a sound system.

It also paid for keyboard impresario Willy, who provides an eerily soothing soundtrack for the class. It’s like a music box that’s about to run out but never quite does. Later, as the class moves on to dance steps, he adds a jazz fusion touch. Willy is singled out for praise many times in the session.

“It’s a social hour,” says Norma Male, 66.

“I forget that I can’t do it correctly, or elegantly. It’s just fun.”

Male was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008. Stress, excitement, anxiety — any stimulation — causes her shake uncontrollably.

“Being active actually reduces that,” Male says.

“I think I’m on the way to dealing with that stress.”

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks founder Vicki Adams Willis takes over the class for the dance segment: “Back, front, then drag, step, step, drag.” It sounds like a real dance class.

“Where we’re losing it is on the sway,” she says to her charges.

She moves deftly from side to side.

“It’s a yummy sway. Remember the movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers?” Almost everyone in the room looks old enough to have that memory.

George Adam is one of the oldest class members, but he still manages a little dexterity in his dance moves.

“One of my problems is I’ve had three hip replacements,” he says, “so I have a little trouble with the movement.”

Adam was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year.

“I’m so blessed compared to a lot of people who get it in their forties or fifties,” he says.

He isn’t so bad for 86 and three hip replacements. His dance tutor is suitably impressed with him and all the others, anyway.

“We’re ready,” Adams Willis says.

“Book the theatre.”

Everyone laughs.

Published by: Calgary Herald