15 February 2023

Abertay research shows benefits of dance classes to people with Parkinson’s disease

New study highlights the positive effect of dance classes and music on participants' motor control

Participating in dance classes significantly improves the motor control of people with Parkinson’s disease, according to new research published by academics at Abertay University.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study involved analysing changes in the participants’ walking pattern, both before and after a dance class.

The changes were measured using a simple screening test, the Timed Get up and Go (TUG) test, which records how long it takes a person to get up from a chair, walk 3 metres and then move back and sit down again. The findings showed that the time taken for participants to complete this task decreased considerably after taking part in a dance class with music.

Led by Dr Corinne Jola, a senior lecturer in the Division of Psychology and Forensic Sciences, and Abertay graduate Moa Sundstrom, the study found that in addition to improved motor control, participants also reported the dance classes as having a positive effect on their mood and general mental wellbeing.

Participants also valued the opportunity to engage in exercise on a regular basis with some reporting being able to move and breathe more easily after each class.

Dr Jola said:

Dance and music have long been used as alternative therapy for people with Parkinson’s but until now, statistical evidence that shows how sound and movement interact in helping people with the disease has been limited. What makes our research unique is that we specifically looked at the role of music in improving mobility. Whilst our research confirmed that music helps people with Parkinson’s in executing motor tasks, contrary to existing research, we found that after a dance session, music did not significantly improve motor skills. This could mean that participants were able to internalise the music, preserving its effect on motor function for a period after the dance class.

The study was funded by the Carnegie Summer Scholarship and involved 29 participants in total who were recruited from six different locations across the UK and the Netherlands, each part of established dance programmes for people with Parkinson’s.

Participants’ lived experiences were explored through qualitative interviews and a key theme highlighted was social contact, with some participants seeing the class as representing a weekly event to which they looked forward with pleasure. The experience of a possible enduring effect of music was also supported through the interview data.

Dr Jola added:

I hope our research results in a better understanding among clinicians and healthcare professionals of how music and dance interact with each other and affect Parkinson’s symptoms and will help inform the design of future interventions.

The project links to two of Abertay’s overarching strategic research themes, Creative and Society, which cover arts and health and wellbeing respectively. Research like this has the potential to sit at the interface between arts and sciences in the future.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 10 million people worldwide. The disease manifests itself predominantly via a range of motor symptoms, such as tremor, slowness of movement, freezing, painful muscle cramps and stiffness but also other autonomic and sensory nervous system symptoms.

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