Archives February 2016

Parkinson’s Disease (un)conventional Treatments

Inside human neurology research concept examining the mind of a human to heal memory loss or cells due to dementia and other neurological diseases as a hole shaped as a brain in a cement wall with neurons.

Parkinson’s is an incurable disease that many of its symptoms have to do with decreased motor skills. Most common symptoms include tremors, muscle rigidity, imbalance, and slow movement. Since each patient displays a different range and severity of symptoms, the treatment for every PD patient is based on his or her symptoms. Conventional treatments include medications, surgery, and general adaptations to the patient’s lifestyle.

Medications and Surgery

Since Parkinson’s disease affects dopamine production in the brain, which causes most motor symptoms, many drugs for treating the conditions aim to mimic the action of dopamine or restore its level in patients’ systems. Such drugs, generally known as dopaminergic, are aimed at reducing muscle rigidity, lessen tremoring, and increase speed and improve coordination of movement. The most effective drug today is the levodopa, which is a natural chemical that is converted to dopamine in the brain. In cases where medical treatments have been exhausted and cease to benefit the patient surgery might be performed. Some surgeries, such as ‘deep brain stimulation’ (DBS), are aimed at blocking certain electrical signals from specific areas in the brain without damaging nerve cells and consequently harming healthy brain tissues. In others, such as the pallidotomy, a tiny part of the globus pallidus in the brain is destroyed by scarring. This is because in some cases this area is overactive and causes a decreased motor activity, scarring that tissue can help relieve movement symptoms such as rigidity and tremoring. Pallidotomy as well as other surgical procedures such as the thalamotomy or subthalamotomy are rarely performed today.

Lifestyle Adjustments

For some people living with Parkinson’s, private therapies and support groups can prove very helpful. On the practical level, meeting people who have similar symptoms as well as their friends and relatives can be a useful resource from which to gain information about the disease and how to deal with it. On the emotional level, while support groups are not for everyone, getting and giving support to people who are going through the same things is very helpful. Finding a good occupational therapist or caregiver to help with everyday activities such as getting dressed or eating is also important, both for the PD patient and to relieve the load on family members. Despite the motor difficulties, it is essential to maintain a certain level of physical activity that can be part of a person’s routine, such as gardening or walking.

Dance

The importance of exercise in combating the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is unquestionable. But while dance as therapy is increasing in popularity around the globe it is still not considered a conventional treatment method for people suffering from the condition. However, many people are becoming aware of the benefits of dancing. This is unsurprising, as this activity targets the very symptoms that Parkinson’s creates — both the physical and emotional. On the physical level, dancing helps improve balance, coordination, speed, and shifting positions. On the emotional level, it can help combat depression — a very common accompanying symptom of Parkinson’s patients. The music, movement, human contact, laughter, and exhilarating feelings that come with dancing may not be conventional therapies for a degenerative disease, but are nevertheless extremely effective – as proven by the experiences of people like Rafi Eldor.

The Physical and Cognitive Benefits of Dancing

dance to health

Anyone who has seen one of Rafi Eldor’s dance performances was inevitably impressed by the effort dancing requires. While the dancers often seem as if they are floating around the dance-floor, it is evident that in order to execute their moves they have to keep perfect balance, and exercise coordination and muscle strength. As such, the process of dancing requires many simultaneous efforts from the dancer, cognitive and physical. In other words, when a person dances, he or she exercise many of their body’s functions. This makes dancing a valuable physical training technique with numerous benefits for health and fitness.

Promoting Health and Fitnessballet dancer

Research points to the numerous health benefits that can be achieved through dancing, and one piece in particular, conducted by Professor Tim Watson and Dr. Andrew Garrett from the University of Hertfordshire, points to some intriguing findings. The researchers compared the fitness of the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet School with that of the members of the squad of the British National and International Swimmers, among them also Olympic swimmers. Fitness was measured according to ten parameters, including strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and more. The results were decisive. In seven out of ten tests the dancers scored higher, proving the efficiency of dancing in improving physical fitness. While this research is striking, some may argue that it applies only to professional ballet dancers. However, while it is true that the average dancer is not likely to be as strong and fit as an Olympic swimmer, even so-called amateur dancing has clear physical and cognitive benefits.

Dancing is, in the most general sense, a physical exercise. It is a fun way to do aerobic exercise, and the movement of the body in a coordinated way requires effort. This effort trains dancers’ muscles (including core, leg, back and arm muscles), and also the cardiovascular systems. For older people, the strengthening of the bones is crucial to reducing the risk of osteoporosis, which dancing is very effective in doing, according to the Arts Council of England. Furthermore, the benefits for coordination, agility, flexibility, and balance are beneficial for people of all ages and physical abilities.

How Does This Apply to Parkinson’s Patients?

Dance has specific benefits for Parkinson’s disease patients. For example, research published in the American Journal of Dance Therapy in December 2007, revealed the benefits of dancing Argentine Tango (a form of ballroom dancing). The research compared a group of Parkinson’s patients who practiced Argentine tango with a group of patients who exercised in a traditional strength\flexibility class. The results showed that after thirteen weeks of exercise, when both groups were tested for balance, falls, or gait, only the dancers showed improvement in all the parameters measured, including self-reported confidence in avoiding falls.

Dance – A Fun Way to Exercise

To summarize: dancing is a healthy, fun and sociable way to exercise. Even when compared to traditional forms of exercise (such as swimming or fitness classes), dancing still provides more benefits, and is becoming a conventional way of keeping in shape and maintaining good health. And to Parkinson’s patients, dancing is particularly beneficial!