Dancing - Use it or Lose it; Dancing makes you smarter


Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Richard Powers - For centuries, dance manuals and other writings have lauded the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical exercise. More recently we've seen research on further health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.

Then most recently we've heard of another benefit: Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter. A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one's mind can ward off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit. Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages.

You may have heard about the New England Journal of Medicine report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging. Here it is in a nutshell.

The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other activities had none.

They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments. And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.

One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind. There was one important exception: the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia

Bicycling and swimming - 0%

Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%

Playing golf - 0%

Dancing frequently - 76%.
That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.

Quoting Dr. Joseph Coyle, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who wrote an accompanying commentary:
"The cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to these activities, are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use."

And from from the study itself, Dr. Katzman proposed these persons are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses. Like education, participation in some leisure activities lowers the risk of dementia by improving cognitive reserve.

Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed. If it doesn't need to, then it won't.

Aging and memory

When brain cells die and synapses weaken with aging, our nouns go first, like names of people, because there's only one neural pathway connecting to that stored information. If the single neural connection to that name fades, we lose access to it. So as we age, we learn to parallel process, to come up with synonyms to go around these roadblocks. (Or maybe we don't learn to do this, and just become a dimmer bulb.)

The key here is Dr. Katzman's emphasis on the complexity of our neuronal synapses. More is better. Do whatever you can to create new neural paths. The opposite of this is taking the same old well-worn path over and over again, with habitual patterns of thinking and living our lives.

When I was studying the creative process as a grad student at Stanford, I came across the perfect analogy to this:

The more stepping stones there are across the creek,  the easier it is to cross in your own style.

The focus of that aphorism was creative thinking, to find as many alternative paths as possible to a creative solution. But as we age, parallel processing becomes more critical. Now it's no longer a matter of style, it's a matter of survival — getting across the creek at all. Randomly dying brain cells are like stepping stones being removed one by one. Those who had only one well-worn path of stones are completely blocked when some are removed. But those who spent their lives trying different mental routes each time, creating a myriad of possible paths, still have several paths left.

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine study shows that we need to keep as many of those paths active as we can, while also generating new paths, to maintain the complexity of our neuronal synapses.

Why dancing?

We immediately ask two questions:

Why is dancing better than other activities for improving mental capabilities?

Does this mean all kinds of dancing, or is one kind of dancing better than another?

That's where this particular study falls short. It doesn't answer these questions as a stand-alone study. Fortunately, it isn't a stand-alone study. It's one of many studies, over decades, which have shown that we increase our mental capacity by exercising our cognitive processes. Intelligence: Use it or lose it. And it's the other studies which fill in the gaps in this one. Looking at all of these studies together lets us understand the bigger picture.

Some of this is discussed here (the page you may have just came from) which looks at intelligence in dancing. The essence of intelligence is making decisions. And the concluding advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.

One way to do that is to learn something new. Not just dancing, but anything new. Don't worry about the probability that you'll never use it in the future. Take a class to challenge your mind. It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new pathways. Difficult and even frustrating classes are better for you, as they will create a greater need for new neural pathways.

Then take a dance class, which can be even better. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.

What kind of dancing?

Let's go back to the study:
Bicycling, swimming or playing golf - 0% reduced risk of dementia

But doesn't golf require rapid-fire decision-making? No, not if you're a long-time player. You made most of the decisions when you first started playing, years ago. Now the game is mostly refining your technique. It can be good physical exercise, but the study showed it led to no improvement in mental acuity.

Therefore do the kinds of dance where you must make as many split-second decisions as possible. That's key to maintaining true intelligence.

Does any kind of dancing lead to increased mental acuity? No, not all forms of dancing will produce this benefit. Not dancing which, like golf or swimming, mostly works on style or retracing the same memorized paths. The key is the decision-making. Remember (from this page), Jean Piaget suggested that intelligence is what we use when we don't already know what to do.

We wish that 25 years ago the Albert Einstein College of Medicine thought of doing side-by-side comparisons of different kinds of dancing, to find out which was better. But we can figure it out by looking at who they studied: senior citizens 75 and older, beginning in 1980. Those who danced in that particular population were former Roaring Twenties dancers (back in 1980) and then former Swing Era dancers (today), so the kind of dancing most of them continued to do in retirement was what they began when they were young: freestyle social dancing -- basic foxtrot, swing, waltz and maybe some Latin.

I've been watching senior citizens dance all of my life, from my parents (who met at a Tommy Dorsey dance), to retirement communities, to the Roseland Ballroom in New York. I almost never see memorized sequences or patterns on the dance floor. I mostly see easygoing, fairly simple social dancing — freestyle lead and follow. But freestyle social dancing isn't that simple! It requires a lot of split-second decision-making, in both the lead and follow roles.

I need to digress here:
I want to point out that I'm not demonizing memorized sequence dancing or style-focused pattern-based ballroom dancing. I sometimes enjoy sequence dances myself, and there are stress-reduction benefits of any kind of dancing, cardiovascular benefits of physical exercise, and even further benefits of feeling connected to a community of dancers. So all dancing is good.

But when it comes to preserving mental acuity, then some forms are significantly better than others. When we talk of intelligence (use it or lose it) then the more decision-making we can bring into our dancing, the better.

Who benefits more, women or men?

In social dancing, the follow role automatically gains a benefit, by making hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next. As I mentioned on this page, women don't "follow", they interpret the signals their partners are giving them, and this requires intelligence and decision-making, which is active, not passive. This benefit is greatly enhanced by dancing with different partners, not always with the same fellow. With different dance partners, you have to adjust much more and be aware of more variables. This is great for staying smarter longer.

But men, you can also match her degree of decision-making if you choose to do so. (1) Really notice your partner and what works best for her. Notice what is comfortable for her, where she is already going, which moves are successful with her and what aren't, and constantly adapt your dancing to these observations. That's rapid-fire split-second decision making. (2) Don't lead the same old patterns the same way each time. Challenge yourself to try new things. Make more decisions more often. Intelligence: use it or lose it.

And men, the huge side-benefit is that your partners will have much more fun dancing with you when you are attentive to their dancing and constantly adjusting for their comfort and continuity of motion.

Dance often

Finally, remember that this study made another suggestion: do it often. Seniors who did crossword puzzles four days a week had a measurably lower risk of dementia than those who did the puzzles once a week. If you can't take classes or go out dancing four times a week, then dance as much as you can. More is better.

And do it now, the sooner the better. It's essential to start building your cognitive reserve now. Some day you'll need as many of those stepping stones across the creek as possible. Don't wait — start building them now.

Dancing - Set Dancing Benefits for Pd


Set dancing benefits for Parkinson's

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Irish Times - IRISH SET dancing has emerged as an effective rehabilitative source for Parkinson’s patients, international research to be published at an upcoming conference attended by up to 1,000 patients will show.

The research by Dr Daniele Volpe, medical director at the St John of God Hospital Parkinson’s Centre in Venice, will reveal that regular participation in Irish set dancing classes can improve mobility and balance, reduce the number of falls, and, generally, enhance quality of life.

Dr Volpe will be one of a number of keynote speakers at the National Patients’ Conference, which takes place this Sunday, June 17th, at the National Convention Centre.

The National Patients’ Conference will open the Movement Disorder Society’s 16th international congress in Dublin, which will be attended by 5,000 delegates, including some of the world’s leading movement disorder experts, a number of whom will speak at the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland event.

The Venice-based doctor undertook the research in association with the department of neurology at Belluno Hospital, Belluno, in Italy, in collaboration with leading Irish expert on Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders Prof Timothy Lynch, of the Neurological Institute at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin.

Dr Volpe, who plays Irish music, conducted the research after watching a Parkinson’s patient dance a set “with remarkable balance and fluidity” during a session he was playing in at a Co Clare pub.

On his return to Italy, Dr Volpe found that Venice had its own set dance group, the Black Sheep Irish Set Dance Association, and he subsequently engaged the group to run a six-month programme of classes for a cohort of 24 Parkinson’s patients to determine the rehabilitative effects of the dance on their condition.

The positive findings of the research will be detailed by Dr Volpe at Sunday’s conference.

“I am a huge fan of Irish music, song and dance but I couldn’t but notice the excellent balance of this Parkinson’s patient when I saw him dance in that set in Co Clare.

“There was so little impairment to his gait that I felt there must be something in the fact that he set danced regularly, so I decided to start a research project on the value of Irish set dance in rehabilitation of Parkinson’s disease. The results so far have been striking,” he explained. The research followed similar evidence showing that dance, specifically tango, may be an effective strategy for improving mobility in elderly people.

“The aim of the study was to verify if Irish set dance could be effective on mobility, balance and quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr Volpe.

“We recruited 24 subjects with PD and randomly assigned them between an Irish set dance group and a conventional physiotherapy group, with the subjects evaluated three weeks before and three weeks after the interventions.”

The research suggests a reduced number of falls by patients who undertook the research.

No significant improvements in the same measurements were registered in the conventional physiotherapy group. Commenting on the results, Parkinson’s Association of Ireland chairman Pat O’Rourke said: “We are very excited about this research as it would appear that, under our noses, a dance that is inherent in Irish culture may, in fact, be able to help Parkinson’s patients.

“We are making our branches aware of this research and already a number of members are taking up classes.”

A number of set dance classes for Parkinson’s patients will begin here over the coming months in response to the study.

One such class took to the boards for the first time this week in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, under the auspices of the Tipperary Branch of the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland and with the support of the Nenagh Club Rince group.

Dancing - En Pointe to Tackle Pd


En pointe to tackle Parkinson's disease

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

When Peter Linton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four years ago, his first thought wasn't to take up ballet.
Lorna Stewart - Ballet helps tackle Parkinson's disease.

When Peter Linton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four years ago, his first thought wasn't to take up ballet.

The condition affects Peter's coordination, makes movement slower and less controlled, and gives him difficulties with balance and walking. Ballet, you might think, would be last thing to which he was suited.

But in the rehearsal rooms at the English National Ballet, as the piano thumps out music from the Nutcracker, he lifts his arms ready to dance.

He now he attends weekly ballet classes specifically targeted at people living with Parkinson's to help balance and coordination - and, in the process, he has found a new way to express himself.

"Physical exercises are just that, but music adds a new dimension to what we are doing," he said.

"We're trying to express ourselves, not only in dance but responding to the music. And that I find really quite absorbing."

Finding means of expression is especially important for people living with Parkinson's, because many of their symptoms make communication, both verbal and non-verbal, difficult. Expressive art forms such as dance might offer new hope.

The weekly Dance for Parkinson's classes are being run by the English National Ballet.

"After the class one feels better in several different ways," said Peter.

"First, is the purely physical side - you've had some exercise, sometimes quite vigorous, to loosen the muscles and improve the tone.

"And then comes the music - you've had an hour of very beautiful music, and that adds this emotional dimension. And then are the social things as well - the cup of tea after the class."

Researchers at the University of Roehampton, led by Dr Sara Houston, are measuring the observed changes in patients' physical and emotional well-being.

The study, which will run for two more years, monitors changes in patients' balance and stability, as well as interviewing them about their experiences.

"We are examining the experience that people might have dancing with Parkinson's," Dr Houston told the BBC.

"That experience encompasses changes in physicality, as well as perceptions of what people can do, health and well-being."

Medication limits
There is no cure for Parkinson's, but symptoms can be helped in the short-term by medication.

However, drug treatments become less effective after only a few years, leaving patients to cope as best they can with their worsening symptoms.

It is hoped that benefits seen from the ballet classes will help to slow down the inevitable deterioration faced by patients.

Danielle Jones is the lead dance artist for Dance for Parkinson's. She helped to develop the programme and now teaches the classes.

"It's not like physical therapy, it's about being creative and expressive with movement. We try to improve a feeling of flow, a feeling of grace, and most importantly freedom," she said.

"What I notice in the participants is their confidence to believe in themselves as movers, as dancers - to understand that they are capable of these things.

"So they are able to take risks [in their movements] and do it in a creative and expressive way."

Finding means of expression can be a particular challenge for Parkinson's patients. The disease affects an estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide and research suggests more than three-quarters of patients have difficulties with speech and voice.

"They have difficulty expressing themselves in a number of ways," said Dr Houston.

"Firstly, through speech, which due to Parkinson's often gets slurred or diminishes in loudness.

"And also because of stiffness and slowness of muscles, facial expressions don't work as well so often it's difficult for people with Parkinson's to communicate, and through communication to express themselves."

And the Dance for Parkinson's classes may offer one way for patients to address those difficulties.

Dr Houston's research is revealing just how much dance has to offer above simple exercise and movement.

"People are valuing the dance for its expressive inputs. They perceive it to be something that they can communicate through.

"This extra dimension in dance, which you don't get through other physical activities, the imaginative element, becomes very important to people."

For Peter, who has had a fondness for ballet for more than 40 years, the classes certainly seem to be having positive effects.

"There's no doubt in my mind that doing more exercise does improve the symptoms.

"They'll never get better but at least they won't get worse. And some people tell me that I now look and behave better than I did three years ago."

A ballet dancer's perspective

Jennie Harrington is in her 10th year as a dancer at the English National Ballet. She volunteers at the Dance for Parkinson's classes whenever she can.

"It's lovely to see how people blossom over the course of the class.

"The people that walk in are very different to the people that leave at the end of the class.

"My grandmother suffered from Parkinson's. So for me I was aware of the symptoms and how then our relationship changed.

"I do often think how nice it would have been to have her in a class like this. In some ways it does strengthen my connection with her. I can see now what she went through.

"It's all about making dance accessible. It's lovely when people find as much joy from it as I do."


Dancing - How it Helps Parkinson's Disease


Parkinson's and dance: An unusual partnership unites

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USA Today - The two things that have brought Michael and Roslyn Lieb closer together couldn't be more different: Parkinson's disease and dance, one slowly taking away, the other giving back in ways they never imagined.

After tremors in his right arm and leg 11 years ago led to Michael Lieb's diagnosis with the debilitating brain disease, his wife became his caretaker. But two years ago, she developed a tremor, too. The diagnosis: Parkinson's.

"I couldn't believe it. It seemed incredible to me that we both should have the disease," he said. "It came as a real shock, a real downer."

"No one in either of our families has Parkinson's," she said. "It's come out of the blue for both of us."

Now retired, the couple still love to read, go to the symphony and opera, and get together often with family and friends. Once a week, they head to an unusual Chicago dance class tailored for Parkinson's patients.

A nurse first recommended the Hubbard Street dance classes three years ago, and Michael Lieb figured he had nothing to lose. His wife went along — first to help Michael, now to benefit herself, too.

The tremors and stiff, awkward movements of Parkinson's hardly seem compatible with dancing.


But exercise is sometimes recommended for Parkinson's patients, to improve flexibility, and brain specialists are investigating if dance offers something more.

For the Liebs, the answer is clear.

"It just lifts the spirits," said Roslyn Lieb, 69. "It does transport us, to a different planet where Parkinson's doesn't matter so much."

"We check our Parkinson's at the door and we're all one community, mutually supportive and we dance together," said her 71-year-old husband. "It's just a marvellous experience."

The free classes just west of downtown Chicago are offered by an internationally known troupe whose performances blend modern dance, jazz and ballet.

Sarah Cullen Fuller, who danced with Hubbard Street for seven years, launched the classes three years ago, borrowing the idea from the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York.

The classes have grown from half a dozen people to sometimes as many as 30 or more. Students include former educators, scientists, doctors "and everything in between," Fuller says.


These dancers wouldn't be mistaken for Baryshnikov, Martha Graham or even the amateurs on TV's "Dancing with the Stars." But their moves are just as stirring, in a less showy, poignant way.

Some are in wheelchairs or can barely move without their partners' help. During a recent class, a man stood behind his wife's chair, leaning down to gently stroke her immobile arms in time with the music. A pianist with two small drums fills the studio with a steady, soothing beat.

Fuller leads students through basic dance exercises — rhythmic arm-lifting, bending and foot-stomping — sometimes while they're seated in chairs, sometimes on foot, sashaying in a way with their partners across the dance floor.

"They assume that they're not dancers, whereas I see them as dancers. I don't see the disease — I try not to. I try not to let it permeate the room. But I also see them working through it and pushing" to find new ways of moving, Fuller said.

Michael Lieb is a renowned scholar of the English poet John Milton and was a long-time University of Illinois-Chicago professor; Roz worked as a public interest attorney. They are less severely affected by Parkinson's than some of their classmates. Their hands shake when they swing their arms toward the ceiling, and their sometimes-halting strides across the floor aren't as long and graceful as Fuller's. But when the Liebs face each other in a sort-of do-si-do, smiling and rhythmically shifting their feet, there's no question that they're dancing.

The class has become a highlight of their week. Whether the benefits are physical, psychological, or both, Michael Lieb says dancing:


"Has mobilized something in me to make me want to go on, and for as long as it's effective, I'll keep doing it."

Parkinson's involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement. Besides tremors, it can cause rigid, halting walking, slowed speech and sometimes dementia. Symptoms worsen over time and can be treated with drugs but there is no cure.

The disease affects about 1 million people nationwide, 6 million globally, according to the National Parkinson's Foundation. The cause isn't known but genes are thought to play a role.

Dancing, because it's accompanied by music, may offer benefits beyond other types of exercise for Parkinson's patients, including socialization for people otherwise

of the Parkinson's disease center at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"When you hear music, it sort of drives the emotional parts of the brain,"


he said.

That may help bypass damaged brain cells in Parkinson's patients, making movement easier, he said.* Tarsy is researching whether that means a real improvement in brain function.

Gammon Earhart, a Parkinson's researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, led a recently published study showing that:


twice weekly tango classes seemed to help Parkinson's patients walk more quickly and with less stiffness than patients who didn't dance.

The Hubbard Street class exercises include tango-esque strides across the dance floor, along with positions borrowed from ballet, and more free-form modern dance moves.

Michael Lieb says:


“He used to lack the energy and will to do some of the dance exercises.”


He retired from teaching because Parkinson's stole his stamina, his impulse to share his ideas and "to excite a class without undue shaking," Lieb said in the subdued, flat-sounding speech that sometimes comes with disease.

The couple has been married for 48 years. With her short coifed silver hair, and his glasses and graying beard, they seem dignified yet down-to-earth and philosophical about how the disease is changing their lives.

Parkinson's is forcing them to sell the spacious suburban Oak Park home where they raised two sons and entertained their three grandchildren; they've bought a condo where they won't have to navigate stairs.

"No one knows what the future may hold" and that is what's most frightening, Roslyn Lieb said, her voice breaking. "I have a goal of dancing at my grandchildren's weddings."

Together "we represent one unit, one truly healthy person who is becoming more and more unhealthy as time goes on," her husband said.

"But that's OK. We're facing up to it and we're enjoying each other in a way, and loving each other in a way that would have been impossible without the disease."


Hi, This is John Pepper:

This is the same observation I made, when I found that I was able to walk ‘normally’, when I concentrated on each individual movement, instead of leaving my sub-conscious brain to control my walking. It did not make sense to me, being able to walk normally, if I concentrated on what I was doing, instead of walking without thinking about it. I assumed that:


A different area of my brain was controlling my walking, when I concentrated on each individual movement


Dancing - Movement Disorders Disappear on Dance Floor



Extract from Spring Times No 57 October 2010.

This refers to the World Parkinson Congress held in Glasgow in July 2010.


Following the morning Plenary Session on Day 2 we attended a workshop on Dance and Parkinson's Disease because it has long been of personal interest that my husband’s movement disorders disappear completely on the dance floor or when he listens to marching music. We are currently conducting our own little research trial with an iPod and the golf course! I was particularly interested to understand how music fits into the movement centre of the brain and why it is such a powerful cueing technique. We were actually very privileged at the end of the session to have an informal chat with a young Italian neurologist who ‘popped in’ and patiently explained the various auditory, memory and other pathways that enable you to create a different route for movement. Interestingly, he also told us that we all possess a body rhythm that is individual to each person so it’s all about finding your own natural rhythm and working to that pace if you are looking for a cueing mechanism. What a piece of luck that my rhythm matches that of my husband on the dance floor!


Dancing - Boot Camp Highlights Benefits


Parkinson's Boot Camp highlights the benefits of exercise in managing the disease

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Sandra Livingston - Al Valaitis and his wife Irena haven't torn up a dance floor with their tango moves in years.

But on Saturday Valaitis rose from a wheelchair and joined dozens of others with Parkinson's disease as they carefully tried to do tango steps during a program put on by University Hospitals Movement Disorders Center and two partners.

The nearly day-long "Parkinson's Boot Camp" focused on exercise techniques and wellness practices to manage the disease.

Out on the meeting-room floor, Valaitis found that his legs were too weak to recapture a glimpse of the decades when he and Irena danced the tango. Yet the 71-year-old Eastlake man felt inspired by the day -- not defeated by the moment.

"This makes me feel like I've got a chance yet,"

said Valaitis, who switches between the wheelchair and a walker to help him get around.

"I look around and see what people can do with a little bit of exercise."

And that was the point: to show Parkinson's patients and their caregivers the benefits of exercise. Sessions highlighted both research and hands-on activities ranging from dancing to Tai Chi.

"From what we've seen, our patients find it transformative," said Dr. Benjamin Walter, medical director of the deep brain stimulation program at the Movement Disorders Center and an event organizer.

In patients who exercise regularly, Walter has seen improvements in their symptoms and overall sense of well-being. And some have been able to reduce their medications. "But they have to maintain the exercise", he said.

The first boot camp was held in May. It was such a success -- with a capacity crowd of about 320 and a waiting list of 100 -- that organizers arranged for Saturday's session at the LaCentre Conference & Banquet Facility in Westlake. It drew about 400 people.

The other two partners in the program were the local non-profit Courageous Steps for Parkinson's and the Ohio Parkinson Foundation Northeast Region.

Parkinson's is a chronic and progressive disease without a cure that among other things can give people tremors, stiffen their limbs, slow their movement, impair their balance and soften their voices.

Research studies on exercise and the disease have involved only small samples of people but the results are encouraging, said Christina Whitney, a clinical nurse specialist at the Movement Disorders Center.

They indicate that exercise can restore some functions -- particularly in people forced to exercise beyond their preferred level. That can mean walking on a treadmill set at a speed that makes a person walk faster than he would on pavement.

Whitney also said tango dancing appears to help with balance and in restoring the movement of legs, while Tai Chi is believed to help improve posture, balance, flexibility and strength.

"Exercise should be started at the time of diagnosis," Whitney said, but noted "it's never too late to become active."

The key is to do it regularly or the benefits will wane.

During one session, attendees learned a series of exercise that can be done anywhere -- such as making large circular motions with their arms outstretched, pumping their knees or blowing up and tying a balloon.

"If you don't feel like you're in control, start exercising every day and you will,"

said David Zid, who ran the session and is president of a Columbus-based company called Delay the Disease, which is focused on Parkinson's and exercise.

Zid also explained a method to get out of a chair more easily (slide to the edge, place your feet wide but still underneath you, and put your nose over your toes, then stand.)

That strategy helped Dianne Menefee of Macedonia, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's about 19 years ago.

"It was real easy to get up that way," she said. "Losing my independence is a big fear of mine, so those things are very helpful."


Dancing - Use Movement as a Strategy


Dance class helps Parkinson's patients use movement as a strategy

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Janet I. Tu

Seattle Times - At this dance class in Kirkland, the students walk in slowly, some rigidly or with a bit of a tremor. They take their places, not at a ballet barre or on the dance floor, but sitting in chairs.

As the live music starts, they flutter their fingers like hummingbird wings, point their toes along the ground. Limbs loosen and start to flow. And perhaps something even more important happens: Smiles emerge and laughter erupts.

An unusual dance class is taking place: one taught by professional dancers and offered free of charge for people with Parkinson's disease and their caregivers. It's one of a small but growing number of such classes worldwide.

The class is called Dance for Parkinson's, based on the Dance for PD program created in 2001 by the Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Seattle and Spokane are among some 40 communities worldwide that have replicated the model.

The idea is that dance helps ease the symptoms — and some hope might even slow the progression — of Parkinson's disease, a disorder of the brain that leads to rigid muscles, shaking, impaired balance and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination.

It's long been accepted that exercise and movement are important for those with Parkinson's. In addition to physical therapy, there are yoga and tai chi groups for people with Parkinson's, for instance.

But the idea of dance as beneficial for those with Parkinson's is fairly new. While there hasn't been much research yet that shows the benefits of dance for those with Parkinson's, one recent study did find that at least one form of dance — the tango — helps improve balance and mobility in such patients.

Dr. Monique Giroux, medical director of the Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland, says that, in many ways, dance is ideal for those with Parkinson's.

Research is showing that exercises that are more creative and engaging may help the brain enhance its nerve connections and improve how the brain works, she said.

But just as important, the dance class is an opportunity for joy, creative expression and socializing — an antidote to the depression and isolation that can come with Parkinson's.

"Putting someone on a treadmill and just asking them to walk more — that's a challenging task for someone who already has movement problems,"

Giroux said. But:

"tapping into an exercise that's fun and engaging — that's going to work."

The joy is wonderful

At a recent class at the Peter Kirk Community Center in Kirkland, where the Dance for Parkinson's sessions are held, the teachers led the students in movements inspired by birds.

They learned the steps first while sitting in chairs, then standing up, then moving across the floor, building on each movement until they had an entire routine: swooping like herons, lumbering like owls, fluttering like tropical birds.

A musician, improvising on an electric violin, accompanied throughout.

"The joy is wonderful,"

said Jenny Getchell, 46, of Sammamish, who has had Parkinson's since she was 8. Plus,

"I feel real comfortable around people with Parkinson's because they know what it's like."

When someone has Parkinson's, the nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine are slowly destroyed. Dopamine facilitates movement, so when there's a lack of dopamine, it's hard for a patient to initiate and control movements, unless she or he consciously thinks about and directs them.

That makes movements like walking unpredictable for those with Parkinson's. They may end up shuffling. But when they:

focus on where they put their feet, things go more smoothly.

The idea for the Dance for PD program began when the director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group realized:

The way dancers consciously think about movement was in some ways similar — and could be beneficial — to Parkinson's patients.

"Dancers train — even at a most basic level — to figure out strategies to learn movement, to string movements together seamlessly,"

said David Leventhal with the Mark Morris group and one of the founding teachers of Dance for PD.

Music seems to help, too.

"Many Parkinson's patients will freeze. But if there's music playing with a constant steady beat, it's almost like a reminder to keep stepping,"

said Leilani Pearl, director of communications with the National Parkinson Foundation.

Program to expand

The Dance for PD program began spreading in 2006 when the Mark Morris Dance Company started putting on the class wherever the company tours — including Seattle in 2008. Local classes started when demand continued even after the Mark Morris company left.

The local program — a partnership between Seattle Theatre Group, Spectrum Dance Theater and the Booth Gardner Center at Evergreen — began offering six-week sessions in fall 2009. Starting this September, it's expanding to eight weeks.

All classes follow the same basic format, though local dancers add their own flair: movements from their own dance company's repertoire, for instance.

Each class starts with participants practicing dance moves in chairs, then standing with the chairs or ballet barres for balance, before moving on to circle work and movements across the floor.

Through it all, the principle is to teach not to the symptoms, but to hold a real dance class, based on imagination, imagery and movement.

"It takes the focus off their limitations and it puts it on what they can do," said Shawn Roberts Hensley, school and outreach director for Spectrum Dance Theater.

There's something beautiful about seeing those with Parkinson's and their caregivers taking a dance class together, she said.

"Especially a husband and wife — seeing them dance together again."

Jean Norsworthy, 84, of Bellevue, loves the social aspect and says the classes have improved her confidence in moving.

"Before the class, she wasn't confident even walking by herself,"

said her daughter, Tina Norsworthy, who takes the class with her mom each week.

"Now she danced by herself on a cruise! I love seeing my mom smile, how happy she is dancing."



Dancing - Dance Your Way to Improved Health


Parkinson’s disease patients dance their way to improved health

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Jordan Turgeon

Medill - As Chicagoan Richard Younker, 70, starts to belt a familiar tune, the pianist joins with cheerful accompaniment. Vanya Wang, 72, breaks in with a few lines of “Oh! Susanna.”

Younker and Wang are taking a short break from their twice-weekly dance class for Parkinson’s disease patients, held Mondays and Thursdays at Chicago’s Drucker Center. Both were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about three years ago.

Their instructor, dance and movement sciences expert Citlali Lopez-Ortiz, volunteers her time, as does the assistant and live pianist, to help Parkinson’s disease patients maintain or improve their mobility and balance. The dance program began in November 2009 at the request of physicians from the Northwestern Faculty Foundation and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Lopez-Ortiz said.

“There is a whole set of literature that speaks to the importance of rhythmic, auditory and visual stimulation to improve motor coordination or rhythmic motor patterns in Parkinson’s disease,”


Lopez-Ortiz said.


“So here, we have the music – that type of auditory stimulation – and we try to design motions that encourage rhythmic patterns and motor control.”

And the participants said the dance classes are working. Wang said her husband has commented on her improvement.

“We have wonderful role models to follow,” Wang said of Lopez-Ortiz and her assistant, Jamila Kekulah Kinney.


 They’re so agile and they move with such grace.”

Individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease who are interested in the dance class can contact Lopez-Ortiz at or by phone at               (312) 238 – 4401         (312) 238 – 4401 for more information.

“I don’t know of another program that has all of these components in the city -- nor in the country --
with physicians’ involvement, and scientists’ involvement, and certified movement therapists involved,” Lopez-Ortiz said.



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Dancing - Dance at Your Own Pace


Parkinson's sufferers refusing to dance to the tune of crippling disease

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update


Edinburgh Evening News - "My theory on Parkinson's is that exercise is as crucially important as the drugs you take "

Members of a special exercise group for Parkinson's victims tell the News how the lessons help fight the condition . . .

'DON'T go too fast," he smiles. "But you can speed it up a bit once we get the hang of it."

The guitarist curled in the corner of the lofty dance studio is softly strumming and singing Elvis's Love Me Tender.

A group of men and women are sitting in a circle at Dance Base in the Grassmarket, while performing a range of gentle exercises, and Lindsay McDermid has just sought reassurance from one of the dance teachers about the speed of the new move that the class is trying out.

The 50-year-old has good reason to ensure that he doesn't push himself too hard – he does, after all, have Parkinson's disease.

He's not alone. Everyone in the circle, excluding the professional dancers, either has Parkinson's disease or is the partner of someone who is suffering from the neurological condition.

Dance for People with Parkinson's has just started at Dance Base, a class specifically aimed at people with the condition, as well as their family and carers.

Lindsay, who lives in Granton and was diagnosed with Parkinson's at the age of just 45, can't praise the fortnightly dance class enough.

The father-of-three, who is supported at the class by his wife Linda, says:


"It may seem from the outside that the exercises and dance routines are very minimalistic, but they're actually very beneficial. It just gets you to move your body and limbs, and stretch muscles that you don't normally use every second of the day.“

"The class gets your body moving and the exercises that we do, like the stretching at the end, are great for helping with my walking. They stretch the muscles in the legs, which seize up with Parkinson's."

He adds:


"My theory on Parkinson's is that exercise is as crucially important as the drugs you take. Fifty per cent of keeping Parkinson's at bay is to exercise regularly, and that's my philosophy."

Lindsay's enthusiasm for the free classes is shared by professional dancer and visual artist Mo Morgan. She "fought tooth and nail" for the introduction of the dance class in the Capital after her mum, Margaret Wilkins, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in October 2008, at the age of 76.

With the backing of the Edinburgh branch of the Parkinson's Disease Society (PDS), the 50-year-old, who has been dancing for more than 30 years, organised a pilot workshop at Dance Base for people with Parkinson's in November.

That was run by dancers from the internationally acclaimed Mark Morris Dance Group.

The Brooklyn-based dance company, which was visiting Edinburgh as part of a tour, pioneered such classes for people with Parkinson's eight years ago, showing how dancers use thought, imagination, eyes, ears and touch to control movement.

Their methods have been hailed by Parkinson's experts worldwide and used as a blueprint for classes across the US – and now in Edinburgh.

That pilot proved so popular that Mo was given the nod to go ahead with a regular class at Dance Base for people with the disease, which would be funded by the Edinburgh branch of PDS.

Mo says: "Initially we have funding for ten sessions, which takes us to the end of June, but we need funding for the classes after that."

Mo is desperate to ensure that the funding doesn't dry up and one glance at the damning statistics on the condition confirms why – one person every hour in the UK is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

The condition is often associated with older people but can strike at a younger age – and Lindsay is a prime example. He can still remember the moment he was given the devastating diagnosis, at the age of 45, in November 2005.

"You feel a bit smacked in the face because you think: 'What have I done to get it so young?',"


He says.


"You kind of deny that it's happening to you. My symptoms are obviously worse now than when I was diagnosed, but I'm just not going to let it beat me. The last thing I'm going to do is sit down and accept it, because that would be a slippery slope downwards."

However, the progressive condition – the main symptoms of which are tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement – has inevitably affected several areas of Lindsay's life.

He made the decision to go freelance with his work as a graphic designer in May last year, and admits he often feels exhausted in the afternoons. He struggles with mobility in his right arm and leg, which has a "tendency to drag", and his voice is now quieter, often making it difficult to hear him.

"The Parkinson's affects my balance and speed of movement too," he explains. "If you're in a pub or club or cafe, some people actually think that you're drunk, which I think is a common misconception."

His wife Linda, a staff nurse at St Columba's Hospice, adds: "It also affects day-to-day things like writing and fastening buttons on shirt sleeves."

Lindsay is one of the youngest people with Parkinson's to attend the dance class, which combines elements of modern dance, ballet, tap and social dancing.

Participants dance while sitting in chairs or standing up, as well as performing a range of gentle leg and arm exercises and stretches.

The class is run by a team of four professional dancers, including Mo, to live music from guitarist Barney Strachan, 36, who has specially selected songs to suit each particular exercise. The music ranges from Tom Jones's It's Not Unusual to the Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book.

Another of the four team teachers is professional dancer Robert Heaslip, 28, from Edinburgh's New Town.

He says:


"We work the class so everybody can do it at their own pace. There is a serious tone to the class but it has become a bit of a social gathering as well, where people can have a laugh and have fun."

The social aspect is something Linda, 51, finds pleasing:


"The whole class is wonderful, Lindsay can meet other people with Parkinson's and I can meet people who are involved with people with Parkinson's too, and share information."

So why exactly is there a need for a specific dance class for people with Parkinson's?

Mo explains:


"The people at the class know they can have the confidence in us understanding the condition, and we have the skill to get them prepared physically and mentally to move. That's why it is different from going to a normal dance class, because of speed and safety."

Lindsay, who also cycles and attends a weekly Tai Chi class, agrees:


"Parkinson's affects people in all different ways. It affects me differently from other people in the class and I think you need a teacher or instructor to actually take note that everybody at the class is different."

Lindsay has a simple message for people across Edinburgh and the Lothians who are living with Parkinson's:


"I would just tell them to get off their bum and come along to the class,"


he smiles.


Dancing - Patient Writes a Book


Professor writes the book on life with Parkinson's

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Jane Harrison.

Ealing Gazette - It is not an uncommon sight to see Prof Ray Paul dancing down the street or even on a British Airways plane. Keen to point out that he is not 'bonkers,' he is quite literally dancing for joy as this is one of the few activities he can control, having diagnosed himself with Parkinson's Disease in December 1999, at the age of 52.

An academic at the London School of Economics and Political Science until taking up his professorship at Brunel University in 1992, he said: "I find music and dancing helpful. If I dance fast enough I can move as if I didn't have Parkinson although I am not elegant. I will dance wherever I am. If people don't like it, it's tough but most people are accepting when they find out why."

He illustrates that acceptance by British Airways staff who allowed him to dance for four hours during a London to Beijing flight, in his book: Living with Parkinson's Disease Shake Rattle and Roll, which took six years to complete.

The book is a study in the sort of black humour he uses to get through a life that plunged him into the depths of suicidal depression when he realised something was drastically wrong at his father's 80th birthday party.

Prof Paul, 62, of Baldwyn Gardens, Acton, said: "As I gave a speech I felt very cold and shaky but knew it was not cold and I wasn't nervous. I got out a medical book and read the symptoms for Parkinson's Disease and there was a list of everything I had: tiredness, difficulty turning, dribbling, stiffness. When I collapsed on holiday and went to the doctor I asked her if she wanted me to tell her what was wrong. When I did she went white. It was confirmed by a consultant.

"I looked up life expectancy in an old medical book, which wasn't great and then a newer one gave me an extra two years, which cheered me up no end. I went into clinical depression. The doctor said what I was going through was bereavement. It was for myself; as if I had died. I went crashing down and felt suicidal. It took me two years to write about that chapter."

The way Prof Paul deals with this cruel twist of fate is both inspiring and bewildering. He saved the news for his wife until the first day of the new millennium, didn't tell his daughter for two years and hid it from his work colleagues until his condition forced him to come clean.

He said:


"My wife collapsed. Now she copes by pretending I am not ill, which is the best thing to do. It's hard sometimes because she expects me to do things I can't do, but it's better than being sympathetic."

His daughter was almost relieved, thinking his 'news' was terminal cancer and reaction from work was mixed, mainly good, some indifference. He said: "I was very secretive because I didn't want to lose my job."

In spite of his illness he has been Visiting Professor to both LSE and Brunel since 2003, advising staff and PhD students and gives seminars at universities. He said: "The benefit is I can turn up or not, because I am not getting paid, but I get good feedback."

He wrote the book because he couldn't find anything on the market that would tell him what "he was in for" and to help carers understand what sufferers were going through.

The book is extraordinary, not only covering every aspect of the disease, but also how to tell people, mental health and a plea for more openness in society, health schemes and benefits and is peppered with humorous vignettes to lighten what could be a very depressing read.

It is also well-written and even encouraging, quite some feat from a man who said: "I bitterly resent being ill; my body has let me down. I would do anything to be normal."

* The book can be bought from Amazon or from Prof Paul's website:


Note by John Pepper:

I printed two items in red, because we all need to take note of his action and reaction. He was first in denial and then in mourning. We all need to have gone through a period of mourning so that we can put it all behind us, and then get on with our lives.

His wife needed to do the same thing!



Dancing - Learned Movement


Dance classes for Parkinson's sufferers

Copied from The Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation Weekly News Update

Claire Fox

Wimbleton Guardian - A former teacher with the English National Ballet has turned her attention to dance classes for people suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Joanne Duff spent years working in dance education for companies such as the Royal Opera House, before deciding to use her experience to help those suffering from the disease.

She said: "My mum had Parkinson's for many years and that prompted me to get involved with this work.

"It brings together my professional and personal lives in a way that I had not ever really considered when working in ballet companies throughout my career."

Ms Duff attended a workshop last autumn run by American specialists in the area, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and said it was like a light just came on.

She now teaches sufferers at all stages of the disease in classes accompanied by live music.

She said:


"We have people come in wheelchairs and also those in the early stages who can walk to the classes.”

"Parkinson's disease can make people feel isolated and want to stay at home. I am so happy that our dance class makes them want to come out every Wednesday, enjoy being together and have fun”.

"People might not automatically pair dance with Parkinson's disease, but learned movement is particularly useful for people with Parkinson's and working with live music, you get a very personal response."

Note by John Pepper:

There is no doubt in my mind that music and rhythm have a positive effect on the minds of Parkinson’s sufferers. I believe that the conscious mind takes over the control of movement, when this happens. This is only my conclusion and it may not be that of other people.