Dance and Parkinson’s

silhouette of gymnasts in sunset at beach jumping and having fun

I recently visited the University of Hertfordshire to attend their conference on dance and Parkinson’s hosted by Dr Peter Lovatt and Dr Lucy Annett.

Dancing as a treatment for Parkinson’s is attracting more and more interest. Many people who attend classes claim that the benefits to them are transformational. Surprisingly, there is very little research in this area, what there is can be ambiguous and my impression beforehand was that ‘mainstream’ researchers do not really take this subject seriously.

The lack of research is associated with the difficulty in constructing hypotheses and collecting data. Is it the amount of exercise that is delivered, the type of dance, the effects of socialisation or the emotional impact of dance that makes people ‘feel good.’ Does it increase divergent thinking and quality of life? How can we identify and measure these? Is it worth doing? The University of Hertfordshire is applying for a grant to help them answer some of these questions.

One area that they have got exactly right is in working with the local community of people with Parkinson’s. Subsidised dance classes are run by the university and this provides a pool of potential participants for research. As part of the conference four people with Parkinson’s told their own stories and these were very powerful. Half way through the day there was the inevitable practical session, led by Meryl Kiddier, that the entire room joined in with. Dance is something that anyone can benefit from.

Emma Stack from the University of Southampton gave an overview of Parkinson’s as related to exercise and coping strategies more generally. Sara Houston from the University of Roehampton talked about the aesthetics of dance for people with Parkinson’s and her mixed method approach to ascertain the inner feelings of people taking part in dance classes. The notion that people with Parkinson’s can become more creative was also discussed. Gillian Murphy from the Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust talked about the STABLE project, where participants are encouraged to make exaggerated movements that help them to overcome some of the problems of Parkinson’s. I wrote about neuro-plasticity a while back and this is one area that has embraced this concept, although it does feel like an approach that is struggling to find a scientific hook on which to place itself.

Towards the end of the conference one question that was asked was “Do you think that neuro-plasticity, creativity and divergent thinking are related in people with Parkinson’s?” I think the answer was yes.

Richard Windle – follow Richard’s blog



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