By: Dr Cate McCarty – Dementia Coach
When you think of dance, what comes to mind? Is it the foxtrot, waltz, tango or salsa? Maybe you think of Zumba or Jazzercise. Or maybe you think of the weekly program, Dancing with the Stars.
But did you know that dance is a great brain health strategy? In fact, a study looking at better memory over the course of fourteen years found that dance was a lifestyle factor associated with better memory. The results of this study show the importance of dance in vascular health as well as cognitive function. When eleven different types of physical activities were assessed, only dancing actually showed a lowering effect on dementia risk.
Dance combines physical, cognitive and social engagement that improves each factor. Physically, dance has shown improved balance, and functional capacity. Socially, dance has been shown to enhance quality of life. Improved balance means less risk of falling.
Dance even works for those with Alzheimer’s dementia. Salsa dance therapy had a positive effect on balance, gait, and fall risk in sedentary patients with Alzheimer’s dementia. Six months post-study, no falls had been reported.
Balance and locomotion were positively affected for Parkinson’s dementia patients as well. A study looking at Argentinian tango and American ballroom found that the tango and the waltz/foxtrot groups had improved walk distance and backward stride. The tango group actually improved as much or more than the waltz/foxtrot group.
If you are a dedicated Dancing with the Stars fan, you will be pleased to know that observing dance has been shown to enhance well-being and focus. A study with participants with Alzheimer’s showed improved well-being. Similarly, a study with participants with Parkinson’s has shown that watching dance improved eye focus.
As important as the cognitive and physical benefits of dance are the psychosocial. A study of dancing in care homes showed a decrease in negative behaviors, and an increase in social interaction and enjoyment for both residents and care staff.
Research on dance has a range of outcome with some variability due to study structure. With music being a key component of dancing, it is difficult to separate out the effect of music on the outcomes. The reduction in stress, the increase in serotonin and the improvement of quality of life factors all work together to show dance as a hopeful component of a healthy brain and a positive lifestyle factor.