Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that causes shaking and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination. Can relief for the brain disorder come in the form of dancing?
The tremors and stiff movements of Parkinson's seem to contradict the idea of dancing, but the exercise may be a surprisingly beneficial treatment for patients that improves flexibility and quality of life, the Associated Press reports.
Here, Roslyn Lieb, a 69-year-old woman with Parkinson's, participates in a dance class for Parkinson's at the Hubbard Street Dance Center in Chicago. Keep clicking to learn more about this unusual therapy...
Does it help? For the Lieb, the answer is clear. "It just lifts the spirits," said Roslyn. "It does transport us, to a different planet where Parkinson's doesn't matter so much."
Michael Lieb (right) was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 11 years ago, after experiencing tremors in his right arm and leg. His wife, Roslyn (left) became his caretaker. But two years ago, she too was diagnosed with the disease. How would they take care of each other? A nurse recommended they take dance classes - so they did, figuring they had nothing to lose.
Inspired by similar classes at the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York, Sarah Cullen Fuller of Hubbard Street launched dance classes specifically for those with Parkinson's. The classes contain as many as 30 or more students and include former educators, scientists, doctors "and everything in between," Fuller said.
"We check our Parkinson's at the door and we're all one community, mutually supportive and we dance together," said 71-year-old Michael Lieb. "It's just a marvelous experience."
Fuller leads students through basic dance exercises - rhythmic arm-lifting, bending and foot-stomping - sometimes while they're seated in chairs, sometimes on foot.
How does dancing help people with Parkinson's? Dr. Gammon Earhart, a Parkinson's researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, recently led a study which found that twice weekly tango classes seemed to help Parkinson's patients walk more quickly and with less stiffness than patients who didn't dance.
Exercise is sometimes recommended for Parkinson's patients to improve flexibility, and brain specialists are investigating if dance offers something more.
Dancing may offer benefits beyond other types of exercise for Parkinson's patients, including socialization for people otherwise isolated by their disease, said Harvard neurology professor Dr. Daniel Tarsy, director of the Parkinson's disease center at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.