All the right moves for Parkinson’s sufferers

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Tomorrow marks the 2nd annual World Brain Day, sponsored by the World Federation of Neurology. On this occasion, Best Doctors looks at how people all over the world have harnessed the power of dance as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s, a debilitating neurological condition.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder resulting from the loss of brain cells responsible for producing dopamine, a chemical that controls body movement and muscle coordination. Symptoms vary, but may include tremors, shaking and difficulty moving or walking. Sufferers can also experience cognitive symptoms, such as anxiety, and limitations with problem solving, thinking and memory. 4 in 1000, or approximately 80,000 people in Australia suffer from Parkinson’s disease. In people over 60 years old, Parkinson’s incidence increases to 1 in 100. There is still no cure, yet treatments and therapies are available which can control symptoms and help improve quality of life.

Along with drug therapy and proper nutrition, one of the most important things that people with Parkinson’s can do to manage their condition is by keeping active, which can help improve strength, balance, flexibility and even mood. However, with a medical condition that compromises the ability to move, keeping active can be a real challenge for many.

Shall we dance?

Dancing is proving to be an effective way for Parkinson’s sufferers to meet the challenge of keeping active, and specialised dance practitioners and support groups are bringing benefits to sufferers around the world.

Dance for Parkinson’s is a major influence in this promising method of therapy. The specially-designed programme is led by professional dancers skilled in dance techniques that use stretching, balance, rhythm to help Parkinson’s suffers become stronger, more flexible and achieve greater confidence and coordination. From its beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, the programme has reached over 100 communities in 9 countries.

In the UK, Dance for Parkinson’s has joined forces with local dance group People Dancing in the creation of an online training programme, Dance for Parkinson’s Network UK, for dance teachers to learn more about Parkinson’s and adapt dance lessons for Parkinson’s sufferers. The network accesses teachers in a variety of dance styles and promotes close ties with local support groups and among patients, carers and friends.

According to Anna Leatherdale, producer at People Dancing and a member of the Dance for Parkinson’s Network UK, dancing restores body confidence in Parkinson’s sufferers, by focussing on the music instead of on the body’s actual movements and by using imagery to guide movement, instead of literal instructions. She also points out that the experiences gained in class can be transferred to patient’s daily lives- all it takes is headphones and some music and the struggle with everyday activities such as shopping or housework can be alleviated and made more fluid and enjoyable.

For Leatherdale, the benefits of dance extend beyond the tangible, physical improvements:

“With Parkinson’s, you can lose a lot of facial expressions, but one of the best things is seeing the joy that emerges when people with Parkinson’s rediscover the delight that dancing with other people can bring.” 

Local dance group leader Alison Underwood of Wales concurs: “when you have Parkinson’s, you can withdraw emotionally – I suppose you don’t feel as comfortable in your own body any more. Physically touching each other, while dancing, helps us to overcome inhibitions and to relax. This is useful because stress and tension exacerbate symptoms dramatically. Dancing leaves us all smiling, and we return home re-energised and ready to deal with the realities of life with Parkinson’s.”

Sources:

Tucker, Eleanor (May 3rd 2015) Dancing proves a good move for people with Parkinson’s disease. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com

Better Health Channel, State Government of Victoria (2015) Parkinson’s disease. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

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