The Healing Power of Dance for People With Parkinson's
Dance can bring a sense of joy and creativity to Parkinson's disease patients who otherwise often live a life of increasing isolation. Seeking out dance classes specially designed to aid people with Parkinson's allows those patients to increase their physical and neurological abilities in a fun and supportive way.
Neurological Benefits of Dance
Because of the unique way in which dance provides a connection between the mind and body, it helps Parkinson's patients whose disease is in the process of severing that connection. Dancers must use all their senses, including hearing, vision and touch, to participate in a dance, enforcing that connection even more. Dancers also gain a great sense of where their body is in space, a beneficial ability for patients who are gradually losing control of their bodies.
Physical Benefits of Dance
Some studies show that Parkinson's patients who participate in a dance group are more likely to initiate movement than those who just exercise. Dancers with Parkinson's are able to improve their balance and their walking gait, both of which show great improvement when compared to the abilities of patients who just perform traditional exercise. Measurements of the ability to balance, walk for several minutes at a time and rise from a chair show marked increases. The stretching and strengthening involved in preparing for dance helps the restricted muscles of Parkinson's patients.
Social and Emotional Benefits of Dance
For many Parkinson's patients, a regular dance class functions almost as a support group by providing an upbeat social outlet not overtly connected to a medical setting. In some cities, notably New York, dance classes have been designed specifically for Parkinson's patients, with dance teachers in these programs trained on what Parkinson's patients need. Whether dancing solo or with a partner, Parkinson's patients who take dance class regularly exhibit a higher quality of life than nondancers. In addition, they tend to avoid the depression that often accompanies the disease. Because a dance class focuses on creativity, enjoyment and social connection rather than on therapy, Parkinson's patients are able to get the therapy they actually need without having the constant reminder they are suffering from a disease for which there is no cure.
Even though it can be difficult for people with Parkinson's disease to get regular exercise, they need exercise to maintain their sense of balance and ability to carry on with normal daily activities. Substituting dance for more traditional forms of exercise may prove very beneficial to Parkinson's patients. Not only does dance provide the physical and neurological stimulation required, the movement helps to alleviate pain, and the social aspect of dance classes is beneficial as well.