A Toast for Pesach, 2017 – Tips for the seder night by Professor Rafi Eldor

Happy senior couple with flowers dancing at home

For the past seven years, I have thought and claimed that dancing is not only good for our health, but it actually contributes more than fast walking or any other physical activity. Now I have been proven to be correct. See the full study

A Few Tips for Seder Night and Pesach Vacation

When we meet our many family members and guests we should remember that we are dancers.

  • Stand straight, head held high, chest extended outward, shoulders broadened, neck elongated and legs fixed to the ground as your body stretches upward.
  • Speak energetically, fully expressing every single word.
  • Walk energetically, focusing on the rhythm of your strides, borrowing from dance, moving firmly in large, wide steps.
  • Stretch and walk every day, as we do at the beginning of each lesson. Practice the various dances using the video.
  • Perform breathing exercises several times each day, breathing in slowly from the diaphragm and then abdomen, moving the breath to the lower abdomen and then releasing slowly.
  • Perform facial yoga (facial massage), to remove the mask and turn it into smiling Buddha with shining eyes.

In conclusion, I am convinced that within the next few years we will see a vaccine or drug that will prevent Parkinson’s disease. After participating in conferences in Portland, Utah, Paris and Riga, I am very optimistic.

 

Smile at the world and the world will smile back!

 

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 Importance of Exercise in Combating Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

People Exercise - Combating Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Conventional Ways to Confront Parkinson’s Symptoms

Perhaps one of the most recognizable symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is impaired mobility. Joints that used to be flexible and muscles that could easily lift heavy weights become stiff and no longer function properly. Mundane actions such as walking or turning over in bed are difficult to initiate and are performed particularly slowly, and an unsteady balance makes it difficult to stand up and walk while looking forward.

Conventional treatments for Parkinson’s disease usually involve medication, surgery, or experimental trials. But there are also numerous alternative therapies out there which involve exercise and are directly aimed at maintaining physical strength, flexibility and mobility. Indeed, the ability to move as well as the confidence to do so can be improved by practicing movement.

More than Working Out

Physical activity in its most basic form is a great part of everyday life. Routine activities include housework and gardening, driving a car, taking care of one’s children, running errands, and more — all of which require energy and mobility. For Parkinson’s patients, maintaining such daily routines, even on a basic level, requires practice movement and flexibility. Exercise helps not only improve bodily functions, but also sustain the energy and vitality needed to stay actively immersed in the everyday.

physiotherapy

Types of Exercise

The most commonly known form of exercise for patients struggling with mobility issues is physiotherapy. However, for Parkinson’s patients, activities that are aerobic and learning-based seems to be the most efficient. Exercise that challenges the individual to constantly keep track of and change tempo, activity and direction has numerous benefits. It enhances heart and lungs function, promotes good posture, and trunk rotation. For this any kind of rhythmic and symmetrical movements, such as different dance forms, are highly beneficial. Other activities, such as Yoga and Tai Chi, can also prove helpful, with their potential for increasing flexibility, strengthening core and periphery muscles, and improving balance. Because positions are shifted frequently, concentration and an ability to adapt are required, and are improved as progress is made. Finally, such activities can be very easily adapted to the pace and level of the person exercising, including Parkinson’s disease patients.

The Wonders of Dance

The effect that dancing has on delaying and coping with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are remarkable. Those who discovered this form of treatment, such as Rafi Eldor, follow it with dedication and report incredible improvements in their mental state and ability to function on a daily basis. Since dancing is performed to music and is a sociable activity, it does not only help facilitate and cue movement, but offers pure fun. It can dramatically improve gait and balance, which helps Parkinson’s patients decrease incidents of falling and increase confidence in walking while looking straight ahead. Since the condition can make people struggle with doing two things at once or shifting positions, dancing provides them with the opportunity to practice adjustments of mind and body as well as reciprocal movements — especially given the wide range of genres to be explored, from Tango to Waltz to Cha Cha, which require the coordination of a vast variety of movements.

Finally, dancing has not only physical but also psychological benefits. The joy of movement, the lively music, the elegance of the gestures, and the social contact with the other dancers, all play a role in reviving those who feel Parkinson’s disease has drained their emotional and physical energy.

The Social Implications of Parkinson’s disease

dots inside human skull

Parkinson’s disease results from the death of neuro-cells called substantia nigra, which are responsible for the generation of dopamine, directly influencing the motoric ability of the body (for more information, see the “What is Parkinson’s disease” page). The physical symptoms are fairly well-known: slow movement, shaking, and typically later on deccelerated responsiveness and speaking, and memory issues. However, the effects of Parkinson’s impact much more than patients’ physical world. While pragmatic changes are sometimes manageable, those with the condition often also have to deal with social deficiencies originating from their condition.

Changing Social Roles

Due to the progressive lack of control over movement, muscles, and cognitive function, participating in daily activities becomes increasingly challenging for the Parkinson’s disease patients. Simple chores such as shopping for groceries, washing dishes, or clearing the pathway become more difficult as the symptoms worsen. For those with children, the disease challenges their role as parents, as tasks such as taking care of a baby, making dinner become too demanding to manage. Such domestic dysfunctions originate from the cognitive, mental, and physical impairments of the condition. As the physical issues progress, so do the social.

Parkinson’s Social Surroundings

Parkinson’s disease also affects patients’ self-confidence, and thus impairs their ability to maintain or create new social ties. Even the more subtle physical symptoms can have social implications. Research conducted in McGill University discovered that the way Parkinson’s patients speak causes people to perceive them in a negative light. According to the research, the softer, slower, and sometimes disorientated speech that patients often develop as their condition progresses, triggers unfavourable impressions from people around them. However, symptoms are typically far more obvious than unusual speech patterns: the limitations of mobility caused by Parkinson’s disease compel patients to stay at home more, and cut off contact with the more empathetic company of relatives or friends. Many people with Parkinson’s are cared for at home, often by close relatives, who are undoubtedly also affected by the disease’s impact on the patient’s lifestyle. The redistribution of house chores, daily confrontation with a relative’s deteriorating condition, and the burden of intensive care for a patient all take their emotional toll on caregivers.

Dancing Away the Symptoms

The heavy social burdens discussed above are not, however, an inevitable fact for Parkinson’s patients, and while the diagnosis of the disease always requires readjustments, these do not have to entail an unfulfilling life. As is evident from Rafi Eldor’s story, Parkinson’s disease’s physical as well as social symptoms can be confronted through dancing. Eldor often says that dance is the opposite of Parkinson’s because it requires movement, muscle control, and agility. But this activity is also the social opposite of Parkinson’s disease. Dancing requires the patient to go out, interact intimately with their dance partner, and be sensitive to his or her movements. It requires profound social interaction, which stands in contrast to all the social symptoms mentioned above. As such, dancing can assist not only in confronting the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but also its social implications.

Promising Breakthrough for Parkinson’s in Form of Cancer Drug

Four colors of pills

A team of researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center have made a potentially huge breakthrough in the battle to beat Parkinson’s disease. The small clinical trial focused around testing an FDA approved cancer drug called nilotinib, which is used to treat leukemia. The trial produced some promising results among patients, and there’s hope that this can lead to a new line of treatment for Parkinson’s sufferers.

Four colors of pills

The six month Georgetown trial involved 12 patients that suffer from the disease, while many had dementia and were bed or wheelchair bound. Significant improvements were noticed in the patients’ cognition, walking speed, motor skills and speech, with some of the most severe sufferers regaining mobility and coordination. The improvement in the quality of life of the participating patients was marked, and further evidence of the trial’s success was that following its completion patients regressed and their symptoms returned.

The drug is believed to kill toxic proteins that can cause brain cells to die. It can also help to produce dopamine, a substance that is missing in the bodies of people with Parkinson’s disease, which is connected to moods and also motor functions.

Where to From Here?

While this is an exciting breakthrough, there is a long way to go yet. The drug is FDA approved, but not for the treatment of Parkinson’s.
The next phase of the trial is set to start with doctors at Georgetown next year, and if successful the drug could be made available for the treatment of Parkinson’s in the next three to five years.

This is an important and significant breakthrough, especially for the patients on the trial. While results have been dramatic and encouraging though, they have not always been consistent, and it’s clear that more research is required before nilotinib can be cleared for widespread use.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease with Ballroom Dancing

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Parkinson’s disease is a cruel neurodegenerative disorder that can affect anybody. It impacts the central nervous system and this in turn affects the motor skills of those with the condition. Movement related issues are the first signs of the onset of the condition: these can include slowness of movement, shaking and having trouble walking. Advanced stage symptoms can include cognitive and behavioural problems, whilst various damaging side-effects such as depression, lack of sleep and emotional issues can ensue. Surprisingly little is known about the causes of Parkinson’s, or why the dopamine-generating cells in the region of the midbrain die off. Although there is, as yet, no known cure for the disease, there are various treatment options available for patients from drugs through to alternative therapies. One of the most fascinating areas of therapy that has emerged in recent years is treating Parkinson’s with dance. Professor of Economics at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, Rafi Eldor, suffers from the disease himself and is one of the most passionate advocates for using dance as a form of treatment.

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s by doctors a few years ago, Rafi Eldor was informed that he could expect to live for five years before requiring nursing. In his efforts to research an alternative form of treatment and a way to beat the disorder he discovered dance. He began using ballroom dancing as a way of coping with the condition, and which has enabled him to slow down the onset of the condition and continue to live a normal life.

Dance as Therapy

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Rafi Eldor dancing with Anna Aharonov

Harnessing the power of mind and body is something that ancient societies would practice in all elements of their lives. Religious dances, fertility dances, war dances and childbirth dances were rituals that were firmly integrated into society in the older days. Dance as therapy is not a new concept these days either: it’s deployed in hospitals and care centers around the world to address a wide variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dance for Parkinson’s disease is an important new line of treatment because it addresses essential areas like movement, balance, spatial awareness, coordination and rhythm. These are the critical areas that Parkinson’s sufferers want to address, so dance offers a perfect medium through which patients can work on these skills but also enjoy the social element and other pleasures dancing involves.

People with Parkinson’s have motor problems that affect voluntary movements as opposed to instinctive motion. Although the science behind it is unknown, the elements of dancing to music, following a teacher and developing muscle memory with dance sequences helps to treat the disease.

Educating the Public

Professor Rafi Eldor has worked to educate the public and share his story so that others can learn and benefit from the experience he has been through. In a 2015 TEDx conference at Israel’s IDC, Eldor shared his story with the hundreds in attendance and performed a live ballroom dance number which received a standing ovation. He is not the only person working to promote dance as therapy for the disorder. Dance for PD in Brooklyn, New York is one of the world’s most prominent organizations working in this area. In 15 years they have expanded to six studios in New York with affiliate groups operating in 13 countries.

Finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease is a cause that many dedicated researchers are attempting to tackle every day in labs around the world. Treating people with the condition is something that is tangible and happens now. Dance therapy is an exciting form of alternative treatment that is is producing real benefits for patients from Israel to the US and beyond.

 

How is Parkinson’s disease being diagnosed?

brain_scan

Making a Diagnosis for Parkinson’s Diseasebrain_scan

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by neurological problems related to the production of dopamine. However, there are clear symptoms of the disease that include things like rigidity, resting tremor, slow movement and even balance problems. From the onset, these types of symptoms appear as mild, but increase in intensity and severity as the disease progresses. Once the disease has progressed to a point where it interferes with everyday activities, a neurologist is usually called in to help. With Parkinson’s disease, symptoms often start on one side of the body before moving over and affecting the other side. It should be pointed out that there is no definitive test – EEG, blood test or brain scan – that can diagnose this disease.

Instead, doctors need to conduct a full medical workup by way of an extensive neurological exam. A good way to evaluate the presence of the disease is the patient’s response to medication used for treating it. Medical experts advise that the right diagnosis is made before medication is administered. 4 years ago, in 2011, the FDA gave the green light to DaTscan (an imaging technique) that allows detailed images of the dopamine system in a person’s brain to be captured. It should be noted that there is no fail-safe way to test for Parkinson’s because many of the symptoms that it exhibits are shared with other neurological disorders. And if the wrong diagnosis is made, it can have disastrous repercussions.

Volunteering for Clinical Research

Presently, there is no cure for the disease. However many treatments are making their way through laboratories and clinical research is needed to prove their efficacy. Parkinson’s itself is typically not considered fatal, but it can create conditions that can prove fatal for sufferers. Loss of balance, choking and associated conditions need to be carefully watched. Since a cure does not exist, clinical research needs to be undertaken which connects volunteers and clinical trials needing them. Of course a comprehensive medical history of the patient must match with the requirements of the clinical trials. This is but one of many ways that patients can get involved in their own treatment program.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease

While no cure exists, there are treatments that can make life more bearable for sufferers of Parkinson’s. Medication is used to treat many of the symptoms of the disease, and to make them less pronounced so that daily life is more tolerable. However, over time the medication becomes ineffective and has negative side-effects. Various other treatment regimens have been suggested – some less desirable than others, including deep brain stimulation. But one of the most widely recommended treatment regimens is physical activity. People with Parkinson’s are now taking to social activities like dancing in increasing numbers, and the literature tends to support the notion that dance is beneficial in many ways. The mental and physical stimulation of music and dance has a profound effect on the health and well-being of Parkinson’s patients.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

parkinson disease

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease and How to Cope with It

brain_scan

Parkinson’s is a disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain that manufacture dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for how our brains feel pleasure. People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have low levels of dopamine and consequently have all sorts of maladies, including rigidity in their muscles, slurred speech, a different walk and tremors of the hands, head or other parts of the body. Notable celebrities who have Parkinson’s include Michael J. Fox and Mohammad Ali.

There is no cure for the disease, but there are lifestyle changes that can be adopted to relieve the symptoms to make life more pleasurable and rewarding. PD typically affects the motor system (movement of the body) and it is the decreased production of dopamine cells which does this. The disease can advance to cognitive function, with dementia occurring in the advanced stages. Medication eventually stops working since dopaminergic neurons decrease in number. The main symptoms of the disease are neuropsychiatric, motor, sleep disturbances and impaired senses.

Dancing, Live Music and Parkinson ’s Disease

Many successful initiatives centered around dancing and Parkinson’s have been reported in recent years. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that people living with PD can benefit tremendously from the stimulation of physical movement of dancing and the wellness that it engenders in the mind and the body. Dance studios that cater to those with PD are safe, fun and enriching to sufferers of the disease. Many dance classes take place on a weekly basis and these dance studios are located at multiple venues around the world, from Canada to the U.S. to the United Kingdom.

A community-style environment featuring professional dance instructors and fellow dancers with Parkinson’s disease allows for warm and welcoming sessions and a new circle of friends. Dancing is widely regarded as one of the most positive and beneficial activities that can be used to treat the symptoms of PD. While there is no known cure for the disease, there is significant benefit in music and dance. Friends and family are always welcome to attend with their relatives.

A Warm and Caring Social Experience

The goal of networks that support dancing for Parkinson’s patients is to create an infrastructure conducive to health and well-being, while taking the specific needs and requirements of PD into account. Regularly scheduled classes are held and the therapeutic value of these sessions is without question. Dancing for Parkinson’s disease is an exploration of music and movement in a way that empowers participants to relieve the symptoms of their condition and enjoy a stimulating experience. Participants routinely attest to the incredible benefits they derive from these dance sessions, and close relationships between dance teachers and dancers ensure that the warmth and interpersonal nature of the experience is always present.