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Emerson Hospital Helping Parkinson's Patients With Dance And Speech Classes

CONCORD (CBS) -- In his living room, Bob Art seems hyper-focused on his movement. He joined a dance class via zoom called Dance for Parkinson's. The class is offered by Emerson Hospital in Concord and funded by a grant from the Parkinson's foundation.

While he's in class, he holds in his core and then kicks out his leg with a hint of uncertainty.

"This is your trunk. This is your kickstand," the 79-year-old retired international studies professor explains.

When Art goes to his second-floor study and turns on the camera to join his online dance class, everything seems to click into place. Art's arms reach high, his heels tap, and he becomes fluid.

Asked if he's a dancer, Art jokes, "No, I'm a fellow traveler."

Art is not just someone who took up dance in his later years. He suffers from Parkinson's Disease, a neurological disorder than can cause tremors, trouble walking and talking, and even cognitive issues.

Art first noticed something was wrong when he began falling at night.

"I kept falling at night going from my bed to the bathroom and didn't really know why," he said.

The goal of dance is to improve mobility for patients like Art. Research has shown that dancing can improve gait, balance, and even cognitive function for PD patients.

"Often times I'll have people who say I don't dance. And I say, 'Everybody dances.' You danced when you were in the womb," said Susanne Liebich who teaches the class at Emerson, "If you think about the negative space in art, you know, you're drawing a picture and that you're looking outside the drawing for all those other ways of moving that perhaps the person didn't think about. So, all of a sudden, their movement vocabulary is so much greater."

Art and medicine take other forms at Emerson. For Parkinson's patient Ed Hattauer, it means proudly pronouncing syllables with the spirit of a performer.

Hattauer participates in another online Emerson class focused on the speech of Parkinson's patients. It is called "Speak Out!"

"It's a progressive illness. There is no cure. But at the same time, I've brought a sense of determination to sort of fight this as best I can," Hattauer said.

Instructor Joy Walsh says the class helps patients strengthen their automatic skills like swallowing and speaking.

"There's something that they can do actively to help slow down the progression of this condition and perhaps improve," Walsh said.

For both Hattauer and Art, these classes also come with a community of people, all seeking to improve mentally and physically.

"There's a sense of purpose and encouragement about it," Hattauer said.

"It helps me with my balance which is really important, and it's fun. It's like a no-brainer. Why not do it is the question," Art said.

More information on these classes can be found at

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