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.