Dance For Health

“We should consider every day lost in which we have not danced at least once.”

-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

As we know, exercise is a key component for staying healthy. Movement is important for older adults, especially those for whom a sedentary lifestyle poses health threats. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine discovered that dance had the greatest protection against dementia of any of the other leisure activities studied, reducing the risk by up to 76%. Other activities studied were reading, bicycling, swimming, crossword puzzles, and golf.

As brain cells die and weaken with age, the first thing to go is nouns (like the names of people) because there is only one pathway to remembering those. Dancing uses multiple pathways to movement, from coordinating steps and enjoying the music to social interactions. Therefore, there are more pathways a person’s brain creates to facilitate the fun.

Additionally, freestyle dancing (dancing that doesn’t follow a specific set of steps) might be even better than more pattern-based dancing, like ballroom, for mental acuity. The reason is that anything that requires us to constantly think and revise on the go requires our brain to continually re-route and create new pathways for decision-making.

While dancing might be the most fun and brain-diverse way to strengthen new neural pathways, anything that requires quick decisions versus a routine way of doing things can help.

Freestyle dancing as a pair creates an additional need to interpret signals from a partner. Changing up the partner adds even another level of complexity. So maybe try putting on some good music and have everyone in the family dance with mom on different days?

The Benefits of Dance

• Improves cardiovascular health
• Improves balance and strength
• Gentle on the body
• Boosts cognitive performance
• Can be done by anyone
• Can be a social activity
• Is mood boosting

Pattern-based dancing can be relaxing and movement-rich. For improving chances against dementia, people who are proficient in ballroom dancing can move into a brain space that is more routine, which reduces the neural rerouting that can be more useful for older adults.

The wonderful message in this is that dancing early and often can help our brains no matter what age we are.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine, Psychology Today, and Stanford University Dance

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Dance Movement Therapy (DMT)

If you are aren’t sure about the idea of creating a dance routine with your loved one, you have other options for introducing dance into their lives. Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) targets the specific areas in which your loved one might need improvement.

Dance therapists are more dialed in to which movements will help improve specific neural pathways. They can design programs to help with balance and gait issues associated with diseases like Parkinson’s Disease. While some steps are taught, there is often a focus on creativity and freestyle to engage more of the senses.

Dance therapy is based on the principle that movement reflects an individual’s thoughts and feelings. So, watching how a person chooses to dance, paired with their physical and emotional capabilities during the process, will give the therapist insights to guide the therapy.

Source: National Institutes of Health

Dance as Mind-Body Intervention for Parkinson’s

Dance requires the practice of fluid movements and postures while maintaining full body control,which can address many motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. In addition, dance can improve patients’ emotional, cognitive, and social well-being as a result of listening to music and interacting with other people. Here’s how dance may address each of the key areas identified as being important in an exercise program designed for individuals with Parkinson’s.

  1. Dance is an activity performed to music. The music may serve as an external cue to facilitate movement.
  2. Dance involves the teaching of specific movement strategies.
  3. Dance incorporates balance exercises.
  4. Dance can enhance strength and/or flexibility.
  5. Dance can result in improved cardiovascular functioning.

Source: Parkinson’s News Today and National Institutes of Health

As scary as it sounds, a diagnosis of dementia is not always terrible news. Dementia can be caused by a variety of problems, sometimes something as simple as a vitamin deficiency, or a reaction to a new drug.

What It Is Dementia?

Some forms of dementia can be cured as easily as adjusting a medication prescription or adjusting diet, and may not have permanent effect – especially if the problem is caught in time.

Dementia doesn’t refer to one specific disease. Instead, it refers to a whole host of ailments that affect thought, communication and daily functioning. Diseases categorized under “dementia” often come with serious cognitive declines and the degradation of memory.

Diseases that cause dementia include: Parkinson’s Disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Huntington’s Disease, dementia with Lewy Bodies, vascular dementia, and Alzheimer’s. Most diseases that cause dementia present similarly, almost identically.

However, there are some differences if you know what to look for, especially in the early stages. Early Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is usually characterized by forgetfulness. Other symptoms can include repetition of the same stories and questions, often word for word; confusion; and changes in personality.

With dementia with Lewy Bodies, for instance, patients see a reduced attention span, repeating visual hallucinations, and temporary periods of confusion, as well as rigid muscle movements similar to Parkinson’s Disease. Early Alzheimer’s disease is typically characterized by a forgetfulness not always seen in dementia with Lewy Bodies, although this can vary.

Vascular dementia, which can occur after a heart attack or stroke, is characterized by a marked impairment in judgment in the early stages, although symptoms can vary depending on the part of the brain affected by damaged blood vessels.

Frontotemporal dementia, which is a degeneration of the cells in the brain’s frontal lobes caused by a variety of rarer diseases, is typically characterized by changes in personality in the early stages.

However, the difference between all of these and other causes of dementia can be subtle, even in the early stages, they tend to look more similar as the disease progresses. Usually, when a patient receives an initial diagnosis of dementia, they are getting diagnosed for a set of symptoms, such as when the doctor can see there’s a rash, but does not know whether the underlying cause is a disease, an allergy, or some other ailment.

Doctors can identify the impaired cognition, functioning, or communications that come along with dementia, but it takes more work to discover what is causing these symptoms.

In summary, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can look very similar, but they are not the same. Simply put, Alzheimer’s disease is one out of many causes of dementia. Not all types of dementia are a life sentence, but Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects patients for the rest of their lives, and is one of the worse diagnoses to get. Unfortunately, it is also the most common. Even so, knowing the differences between these two terms can help you plan for the future and understand the progression of your or your loved one’s disease.

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