Treating Parkinson’s Disease with Ballroom Dancing

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.

 

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