Medical treatments for Parkinson’s disease, including medications and deep brain stimulation, don’t completely address gait and balance issues. Other approaches are needed. One approach to these problems is through the use of exercise and dance as a form of alternative therapy.
Dance as a group-based treatment for Parkinson’s disease incorporates physical exercise, cognitive tasks, the sensory experience of music, emotional expression, and social interaction. As a multidimensional activity, dance has the potential to address the challenges faced by patients. In addition to significant motor and cognitive impairment, patients are often troubled by depression and social isolation.
The key areas that have been identified as being important for an exercise program designed for individuals with Parkinson’s disease may be addressed through dance. First, dance is an activity performed to music. The music can serve as an external cue to facilitate movement. Dance also involves teaching specific movement strategies.
For example, in Argentine tango participants can be taught a very specific strategy for walking backward. They are taught to keep the trunk over the supporting foot while reaching backward with the other foot, keeping the toe of that rear foot in contact with the floor as it slides back and shifting weight backward over the rear foot only after it is firmly planted.
Dance also addresses a third recommended component, balance exercises. Throughout dancing, particularly with a partner, one must control balance dynamically and respond to perturbations within the environment, like being bumped by another couple.
In fact, people who have danced habitually over their lifetime are known to have better balance and less variable gait than non-dancers. Additionally, dance-based balance training has been shown to be successful in improving balance in elderly individuals. It could also enhance strength and flexibility.
Finally, dance can result in improved cardiovascular functioning, a testament to the fact that, if done with sufficient intensity, dance is an excellent form of aerobic exercise. Dance is an enjoyable and socially engaging activity. In fact, dance in a social setting may enhance motivation. Dance may be an excellent form of exercise for those with Parkinson’s disease and may highly impact their quality of life.