Ballroom Dancing and Alzheimer's Disease: Fighting Dementia with Dance
Fight Dementia with Dance
Can ballroom dancing really prevent Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia? According to some researchers, it may help.
Several studies suggest that ballroom dancing and other leisure activities may lower a person's risk of cognitive decline. They may also improve the quality of life that dementia steals from Alzheimer's patients and their loved ones.
According to reports from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), about 35.6 million people live with some type of dementia. ADI expects this number to triple by 2050.
Alzheimer's disease, a debilitating loss of brain function, is the most common type of dementia. Not only does it cause memory problems, but it also affects thinking, behavior, and personality.
Although Alzheimer's disease has age-related risk factors, it is not the "old timer's disease" or "old age senility," that so many people call it. It is not a normal part of aging at all.
In fact, Alzheimer's disease can affect people in their 30s and 40s. It robs them of their essence, ravishing their minds and bodies. Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative and terminal illness that has no cure.
Is Alzheimer's disease preventable? This is a question that continues to intrigue doctors, scientists, and researchers. Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers.
The Alzheimer's Association and other groups continue to fund research into the development and progress of dementia. This is where ballroom dancing and other leisure activities come in, and the research is encouraging.
Ballroom dancing, piano playing, crossword puzzles, and other mental activities appear to keep dementia at bay. According to a couple of well-documented studies -- the Bronx Aging Study and the Religious Orders Study -- activities that challenge the mind may prevent or delay the onset of dementia in older adults.
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The Bronx Aging Study
The 2003 Bronx Aging Study explored the relationship between leisure activity and dementia. Joe Verghese, a neurologist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, was the study's head researcher.
The 21-year Bronx Aging Study followed 469 cognitively sound adults over the age of 75. It focused on the effects of six different mind-challenging leisure activities.
The findings were robust, even after adjustments were made for age, sex, education, medical illness, and other factors. The participants who stayed mentally active with stimulating leisure activities were 75 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia.
Some of the participants are now taking part in the Einstein Aging Study (EAS), another research program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Supported by grants from the National Institute of Aging (NIA) since 1980, the EAS focuses on the normal, aging brain as well as the special challenges of Alzheimer's and related dementia.
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The Religious Orders Study
In 2002, R. S. Wilson of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago conducted the Religious Orders Study.
It followed 801 older Catholic clergy members for nearly five years as they pursued leisure activities such as reading books, watching television, and visiting museums.
Like the Bronx Aging Study, the Religious Orders Study showed promising results. It found that the risk of Alzheimer's disease decreased as the leisure activities increased.
Those who engaged in mind-challenging activities several times a week were 47 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who participated only a few times a month.
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Mental Exercise for the Brain
Many adults withdraw from leisure activities as they age or retire from work. Although their lives take a calmer, slower-paced turn, they often become more restricted.
Neurologists encourage older adults to engage in ballroom dancing, learn a musical instrument, complete crossword puzzles -- anything that exercises their brains.
Mental activities stimulate the brain and keep it healthy. Just as healthy bodies fight physical disease, healthy brains are more likely to resist mental illness. The key is finding an enjoyable activity that is also mentally challenging.
“It doesn't matter where you start off from, what you do, or what education you have, as long as you get the brain working,” said Verghese in an interview for The Sunday Times of London.
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Ballroom Dance for the Brain
Does physical activity have the same effect as mental exercise on the development of Alzheimer's disease? Researchers say that it depends on the activity.
According to the studies, ballroom dancing appears to be one physical activity that can delay the onset of dementia. It is a cognitive activity as well as a physical exercise. It requires mental concentration and focus.
"Ballroom dancing involves precise physical activity, listening to the music, remembering dance steps, and taking your partner into account, which is very mentally testing,” said Verghese.
Dancing may be more effective for preventing dementia than working crossword puzzles. The mental challenge of dancing requires a person to think harder. Unlike physical activity, however, hard thinking cannot wear out the brain. In fact, the more people use their “brain muscles,” the sharper they become mentally.
Ballroom dancing is an easy and inexpensive way to fight dementia. According to Jacqueline C. Dominguez, the Memory Center director at St. Luke’s Medical Center in the Philippines, "ballroom dancing has everything in it for people to keep their wits."
Dancing for Better Health
The brain work involved in ballroom dancing does not negate the importance of the physical aspect of dancing. Just as mental exercise is important as a person ages, so is physical activity.
Ballroom dancing is an excellent low-impact exercise, and it provides a mildly aerobic workout. It improves flexibility, builds stamina, strengthens the heart muscle and bones, and burns calories. It is also a good way to relieve stress and depression.
Ballroom dance encompasses various styles, so people are not limited to just one type of dance. Ballroom dancing has something for everyone: the waltz, foxtrot, tango, samba, rumba, mambo, cha cha, jitterbug, and more.
What better way to improve physical fitness and fight dementia than a good dance?
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Reference Sources / Further Reading
- Icamina, Paul. (April 25, 2009.) "Want to Prevent Alzheimer's? Don't Forget Ballroom Dancing." Philippines: Malaya Business Insight. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
- Lipton, Richard. "Einstein Aging Study." Bronx, NY: Yeshiva University: Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Retrieved October 1, 2011.
- "Prevention: Social Connections and Intellectual Activity." Chicago, IL: Alzheimer's Association. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
- "Statistics." London, England: Alzheimer's Disease International. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
- Verghese, Joe, et. al. (June 19, 2003.) "Leisure Activitities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly." Boston, MA: New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
- Wapshott, Nicholas. (June 20, 2003.) "Ballroom Dancing is Best Step to Avoid Alzheimer's." London, England: The Sunday Times. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
- Wilson, Robert S., et. al. (February 13, 2002.) "Participation in Cognitively Stimulating Activities and Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease." Chicago, IL: The Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
Health / Medical Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended as health or medical advice, and it is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional.
Copyright © 2011. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: October 1, 2011 / Modified: June 21, 2013.
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Last updated on June 21, 2013
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