Professor Meg E. Morris is head of the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University, who shared with us the effects of dance for people living with Parkinson’s – you can see the discussion below.
What has your research uncovered about the effects of dance for people living with Parkinson’s?
We have studied Irish Set dancing, Tango dancing, contemporary mixed dance classes and now Tap dancing. What we have found is that when people choose to do a dance genre they enjoy they have very good adherence to the program over the longer term. Sometimes it can seem boring or repetitious to go to the gym or do strength training month after month. Although it is very important to do strengthening, aerobic, mobility and physical activity programs, dancing is one enjoyable form of activity that seems easy to comply with over long stretches of time. It’s a good adjunct to physiotherapy rather than replacing it.
What impact do music and dancing have on the brain of someone with Parkinson’s?
There is surprisingly little research actually measuring what happens inside the brain of a person with the Parkinson when they dance or listen to music. However what we observe with their movement performance is increased speed of movement, better timing of movements when a person synchronises to a rhythmical beat or when they perform a new dance step and less freezing of gait. We think this may be because the person uses other parts of the brain to control movement rather than the defective basal ganglia. When the basal ganglia are affected by Parkinson movement become slow and small yet they respond well to a musical beat. Music is also very enjoyable – it brings joy and can sometimes reduce feelings of fatigue or anxiety.
What have been the positive effects you have seen on people who take up dancing who have Parkinson’s?
Our study of Irish set dancing for people with Parkinson’s in Venice Italy showed improvements in walking, balance and health related quality of life – both for the physiotherapy group and also for the dancing group. People stuck with the classes very happily for 6 months.
Do you have to have any experience in dancing to realise the benefits?
No, although it always helps to have done some type of dancing early in life, it’s not a necessary pre-requisite. A positive attitude, the will and a bit of humour are the main ingredients for success!