Dance has major benefits for those with Parkinson's

Queensland Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s program has had positive physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits for participants affected by Parkinson’s disease, according to research undertaken by QUT and The University of Queensland.

Dance has major benefits for those with Parkinson's

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Participants found their functional mobility improved while dual tasking, which is moving their arms and feet simultaneously.

The research team also found improvements in gait cadence and velocity while walking in a straight line and while dual tasking, and participants had less physical discomfort

Queensland Ballet began its pilot Dance for Parkinson’s program offering specialised dance classes to people affected by Parkinson’s in 2013.

Working with David Leventhal, a founder of the internationally recognised Dance for PD program established in New York, and Brisbane-based specialist and QUT PhD student Erica Rose Jeffrey, Queensland Ballet gave 30 classes to over 60 participants over nine months at its studios in Brisbane, with support from the John T. Reid Charitable Trust.

Each class ran for 75 minutes and included structured exercises and creative movement activities accompanied by live music. The classes introduced participants to five ballets in QB’s repertoire—The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade and Bolero.

Participants also attended live QB performances at the theatre,and watched company dancers rehearse.

The program was accompanied by a research study conducted by experts from QUT’s Creative Industries (Dance) and Health (Movement Neuroscience) faculties and Parkinson’s researchers from The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Health and Behavioural Sciences (Physiotherapy) faculty to analyse the physical and social benefits of the program.

The research study, the first of its kind in Australia, was based on the observation and data collection of 11 volunteer research participants, before, during and after taking part in the classes.

‘The quantitative results of our research were very encouraging,’ said Professor Graham Kerr, a neuroscientist with QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and the President of Parkinson’s Queensland.

‘Overall, the participants saw an improvement in their functional mobility while dual tasking, which is moving their arms and feet simultaneously.

‘We also saw improvements in gait cadence and velocity while walking in a straight line and while dual tasking. Participants’ physical discomfort decreased, they were more confident with balancing activities and their ability to communicate improved.’

Head of QUT Dance Associate Professor Gene Moyle, who is also a sport and exercise psychologist and Queensland Ballet Board Director, said qualitative results from the research demonstrated valuable emotional and social benefits.

‘It was truly moving to hear of the significant benefits that so many of the participants reported experiencing, particularly regarding their increased sense of self, enjoyment in life, and of moving past how they, others and society defined them due to the challenges that Parkinson’s presents,’ Professor Moyle said.

‘We observed that participation in these classes and the ‘outside the studio’ experiences helped restore participants’ dignity and confidence—they reported feeling happier, more optimistic and motivated as a result. Some even reported that the program enabled them to actually identify as “dancers”, rather than people with Parkinson’s, which had a wonderfully empowering effect.’

UQ Professor Sandy Brauer said, ‘We were quite surprised by the changes to some people, particularly a few of the older men who really took to it and ended up bringing a lot of enthusiasm.

‘A main finding was the improvement in the ability of participants to walk and perform another function at the same time, which is often difficult for people with Parkinson’s disease.

‘Falls are a major threat to the 80,000 Australians with Parkinson’s disease, leading to injuries, dependency and institutionalisation, so it’s a promising step to improve walking which could reduce the risk of falls.’

Another significant benefit of the classes revealed by the research is that they acted as a gateway activity to further physical, social and arts activities.

‘Besides stretching all the right places and moving to beautiful music, the Dance for Parkinson’s Program has given us something priceless; new friendships, a sense of community, hope and broader horizons,’ said Madonna Brady, a Dance for Parkinson’s participant and a coordinator for the Young @ Park support group of Parkinson’s Queensland.

CEO Anna Marsden is delighted Queensland Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s program is having positive benefits.

‘Queensland Ballet is committed to continuing our Dance for Parkinson’s program, and our 2015 classes began on 21 February.’

She said QB is seeking further funding to sustain and develop the program, in the hope to expand it and reach more people in Queensland.

The findings support and expand the research presented in the University of Roehampton and English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s program report based on the pilot research study of their 12-class program conducted between October 2010 and February 2011.

Read QB’s Short Report for more detail about the findings, and a research participant case study.

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