Using dance as a therapeutic strategy may benefit patients with Parkinson’s disease by improving their motor function, results of a pilot study suggest.
The study, “ ‘Dance Therapy’ as a psychotherapeutic movement intervention in Parkinson’s disease,” was published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Parkinson’s disease is mainly recognized by its progressive motor symptoms including tremor, muscle rigidity, and impaired gait and balance. Several non-motor symptoms are also experienced by patients, including cognitive impairment, fatigue, mood disorders, and sleep disturbances, all of which can be disabling and lead to a significant decrease in quality of life.
Anti-parkinsonian therapies focus on easing and managing the motor symptoms of the disease, but their use can be limited by the presence of non-motor issues. In addition, effective treatments for non-motor symptoms are not always available.
Given the complex symptom-treatment landscape of the disease, there is increased interest from both patients and caregivers in pursuing mind-body interventions, such as dance therapy, which have the potential to simultaneously address both the motor and non-motor symptoms of the disease.
Dance requires the practice of fluid movements and postures while maintaining full body control, which can address many of the 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, potentially reducing the common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Dance therapy differs from traditional dance classes because it not only focuses on the aesthetic and recreational features of the activity, but also includes the biopsychological status of the subject.
According to the American Dance Therapy Association, “dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual.”
A team led by researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois evaluated the benefits of dance therapy in nine Parkinson’s patients, and compared it with the effects of support group therapy in four patients, who served as the control group.
Patients enrolled in the dance group had a mean age of 66.4 and mean Movement Disorder Society Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (MDS-UPDRS) motor score of 27.6 points. The control group was older, with a mean age of 75.5, and had worse motor scores, a mean of 40.8 points. The UPDRS is a comprehensive 50-question assessment of both motor and non-motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s.
Dance therapy sessions lasted 60 minutes and were conducted once a week, over 10 weeks. The exercises were tailored on an individual basis to incorporate different levels of functional capacity. The sessions focused on an understanding of how movement influences mood and mental health; enhanced balance, gait, and coordination; and expression of thoughts, feelings, and emotions through movement and dance.
The certified dance therapist who conducted the dance therapy sessions also led the support group, “which involved education about how movement influences mood and mental health, ways to incorporate movement and dance into daily life, and exploration of feelings and emotions in a supportive group environment,” according to the researchers.
Seven of the nine patients in the dance group and all participants in the control group completed the study,