By Trena Winans, Senior Services Education & Community Outreach Director
In my professional life there are few topics that concern me more than helping the people we serve improve their balance and avoid falls. Whether you look at nationwide data or drill down into local statistics, there is no question that the number one non-fatal factor that will cause an older adult to be admitted to the hospital is a fall. Statistics say “non-fatal,” but the reality is that a bad fall is often the precipitating factor that leads to removal from the home and even death. The one-year mortality rate after a hip fracture is 14 – 48% compared to just 4% relative risk for the older population as a whole! I don’t say this to scare you, but toexplain why this is an issue we should all take very seriously.
Imagine the excitement then for this life-long dancer to discover two studies out of the University of Missouri that found that dance-based therapy improved both gait and balance in participants! Their conclusion? “Creative interventions such as dance-based therapy have the potential to significantly reduce falls in older persons,” said Jean Krampe, a registered nurse and doctoral student in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “In the studies, we found improved levels of balance, gait and overall functionality among seniors who participated in regular dance-therapy sessions.”
Other recent research found that learning and dancing the Argentine Tango improved balance in Parkinson’s patients. Dr. Silvia Rios Romenets, lead researcher in the study with a special interest in Parkinson’s disease and dance therapy, is a clinical research fellow at the Movement Disorders Clinics at The Neuro and Montreal General Hospital. She said, “In the study, we found the tango was helpful in significantly improving balance and functional mobility, and seemed to encourage patients to appreciate their general course of therapy. We also found modest benefits in terms of patients’ cognitive functions and in reducing fatigue.”
You don’t have to have a lot of dance experience to see why these benefits might occur. Dance requires rhythmic movement, working memory, cross-body coordination, attention and multitasking. In other words, dance challenges the mind and body and requires cross-hemispheric brain activity. Not only that, there is a connection between music and the dopamine system in our brain. This is part of what makes dance fun and you can’t ask for
a better way to get fit than to enjoy it!