Can dancing treat Parkinson's?

"Apothekathryn" "Kathryn Chia"

There has been some exploration of dance as a therapeutic intervention for neurodegenerative diseases because of its distinctive combination of exercise and cognitive engagement. Dance therapy involves focusing on the correlation of movement to expression, self-awareness and coordination which culminates in a mind-body treatment. Several recent preliminary studies have indicated that dance can be an effective alternative to traditional exercise, improving symptoms of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Dementia.

More about Parkinson’s Disease…

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, characterised by both motor and non-motor symptoms that impact one’s quality of life. It’s caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain (substantia nigra), leading to a reduction of dopamine in the brain. As the disease progresses, activities of daily living become increasingly challenging, leading to physical inactivity and social isolation. Though current pharmacological and neurosurgical treatments can help to alleviate symptoms, there is no true cure for Parkinson’s yet. As such, there’s a need for accessible, high quality, complimentary treatment plans to improve the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s.

Dance as a treatment plan for Parkinson’s

Involvement of exercise

Exercise is used as an approach to address the problems Parkinson’s brings, such as gait and balance issues. Traditional exercises used include dynamic balance training, treadmill training, or strength training. Alternatively, dance as a form of exercise can be more enjoyable and engaging as compared to other forms of exercise, with the music, social interactions and creativity it involves. Consequently, this can potentially motivate elderly with Parkinson’s to actively and regularly participate in dance therapy and exercise which is critical in the management of Parkinson’s symptoms.

An activity based on cues

The first recommended component of exercise therapy in the management of Parkinson’s is external cues to facilitate movement. In dance, there are numerous sources of cues; auditory, visual or sensory that have been shown to bypass the diseased basal ganglia and utilize alternate pathways in the brain, managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Examples of these cues in dance can include signals or actions provided by a dance partner and sounds from the dance music.

Specific Movement Strategies

Dance involves the teaching of specific movement strategies, which is the second recommended component of a Parkinson’s specific exercise program. For instance, different dance choreographies can include particular movements of the arms, legs and torso in time with music which one would normally not perform in daily activities. This serves to exercise more muscle groups and activate more brain pathways.

Social Nature of Dance

From dancing in large groups to dancing with a partner, dance can be a very social activity. As such, dance can enhance one’s social support networks, improving one’s quality of life. This social nature of dance is also a significant factor in promoting long term participation in dance as an exercise activity for those with Parkinson’s.

The combination of these benefits from dance in combating Parkinson’s disease - coordinated movement strategies, exercise, musical arrangements and social interactions, can induce neurological adaptations such as improved neural activity and neurogenesis, making dance a promising option for the management of Parkinson’s. Creative activities (singing, art therapy etc), are increasingly being recognised as viable complementary therapies for people living with Parkinson’s. Dance, with its combination of creativity and exercise seems to be a powerful option for self-management.

Limited studies

Unfortunately, it has to be noted that there are still limited studies in the area of dance as a management technique for Parkinson’s, with no studies to date investigating the neural mechanisms by which dance may have beneficial effects in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. There is also no concrete evidence that dance is more effective than other forms of physical activity or its effectiveness as a long-term management plan. At present, it is only possible to assume the ways in which dance could exert its influence, such as facilitating activation of areas that normally show reduced activation in Parkinson’s Disease.

More studies with larger sample sizes are still needed to investigate and determine the effects dance can have on motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s and the quality of life of those affected. The impact of dance therapy among those with Parkinson’s should be explored using qualitative measures alongside objective ones, to provide a more holistic evaluation of its impact. Dance is a very complex social experience that can affect one more than just quantitatively (motor and non-motor symptoms), making it difficult to measure its value through quantitative methods alone.

Dance is an enjoyable activity that can engage the elderly and is associated with enhanced motivation to pursue exercise-related activities. It also appears to meet most, if not all recommended components of exercise programs for individuals with Parkinson’s. Dance not only expands older individuals' repertoire of physical activity, but may also foster further community involvement, personal development, and self-expression, making it a very possible management plan for Parkinson’s together with other conventional clinical methods.

Kathryn Chia Apothekathryn
Photo of Dance Class for Elderly with Parkinson's





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