WASHINGTON-ST. LOUIS (US)/strong>—Dancing the tango may improve balance and mobility in people with Parkinson’s disease. A study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis shows that patients who took part in regular tango classes for 20 sessions showed significant improvements when compared to those who did conventional exercise.
While dance in general may be beneficial for patients with Parkinson’s disease, the researchers say tango uses several aspects of movement that my be especially relevant for these patients including dynamic balance, turning, initiation of movement, moving at a variety of speeds, and walking backward.
“Although some participants were initially skeptical because they hadn’t danced in years or thought they couldn’t because of the disease, this study shows that dance can improve functional mobility,” says Gammon M. Earhart, assistant professor of physical therapy.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells in a part of the brain that controls muscle movement. The nerve cells that make the neurotransmitter dopamine die or do not work properly, resulting in trembling, stiffness, slow movement, and poor balance and coordination. Patients are also at greater risk for falls.
Earhart and Madeleine E. Hackney, a predoctoral trainee in movement science, randomly assigned 19 patients with Parkinson’s disease to 20 one-hour sessions of tango dancing or group strength and flexibility exercise designed for patients with Parkinson’s and the elderly. Each patient was assessed prior to starting the dance or exercise and after completing the sessions. All were similar in age and stage of Parkinson’s disease.
The tango dance sessions included stretching, balance exercises, tango-style walking, footwork patterns, experimenting with timing of steps to music and dancing with and without a partner. The exercise classes included 40 minutes of seated exercise followed by standing exercises supported by a chair and core strengthening and stretching.
The participants in both groups showed significant improvement in the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale Motor Subscale 3, which measures overall disease severity with respect to movement. The tango participants showed much improvement on the Berg Balance Scale, which measures balance in a variety of positions, while the improvements in participants in the exercise group were not as pronounced. In addition, the participants in the tango group showed a trend toward improvement in the Timed Up and Go (TUG) test, which tests functional mobility rising from a chair, walking a short distance, turning and returning to the chair.
“This type of therapy looks to be superior than what is currently offered,” Hackney says. “The quality of life improved in these patients because of the social aspect of the dancing.”
Earhart and Hackney says this is the first study of this type to systematically investigate and compare the effects of tango and strength/flexibility exercises and functional mobility in patients with Parkinson’s and that further studies with larger groups of patients are needed to confirm their observations.