Tango for Parkinson’s
Argentine tango reduces risk of falls
You may have clocked the fact that I am a big fan of dancing – excellent exercise for mind and body, which always leaves you with a smile. More than can be said for some other workouts!
I was intrigued to discover recently that Argentine tango has been used successfully to improve the gait of people with Parkinson’s, and help reduce falls.
A recent study from Florida State University demonstrated a significant reduction in fall risk for people with Parkinson’s after taking a series of classes in Argentine tango. The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (external link will open in a new browser window).
Walking is a big issue with Parkinson’s
The researchers used gait analysis to measure the risk of falling before and after the dance lessons. The patients who took a series of 12 classes had a significant reduction in fall risk compared to a control group.
Walking is a big issue for Parkinson’s patients. They tend to shuffle, which is a risk factor for falling. They are also more likely to be seriously injured by a fall, because they can’t move quickly enough to stop a fall with their hands.
Shani Peter is a third-year medical student and a member of the research team:
“Argentine tango involves specific dance techniques that decrease fall risk and are generally not taught in other dances or activities. Our study further solidifies the potential Argentine tango has as a therapeutic and rehabilitative means for patients.”
Gait analysis is key
Previous studies have shown that tango can be a helpful exercise for people with Parkinson’s, but this research took it a stage further by using a gait analysis tool. Researchers rolled out a pressure-sensitive walkway called GAITRite, which has thousands of sensors to monitor patients as they walk and calculate their risk of falling.
The specific techniques of Argentine tango help explain why it is so beneficial to Parkinson’s patients. The dance emphasizes walking, balance, posture and weight shifting, all taking place alongside a partner. A forward step is broken into three parts: hip lift, knee lift and a forward lean that incorporates the chest. That shifts the dancer’s weight from the back of their body to the front.
People with Parkinson’s have physical manifestations such as a shuffling gait, stooped posture and slower movements, all of which contribute to the risk of falling. Argentine tango targets these features and focuses on walking mechanics, proper posture and balance techniques.
Shani Peter again:
“To take a step in any direction may seem simple, but when you have Parkinson’s disease, the internal cue to take a step may dissipate. As you learn how to dance Argentine tango, not only are you taught how to take a step by analyzing your body movements from head to toe, but you are provided external cues to do so.”
Tango studies to continue
The researchers are continuing their investigation. The intervention only lasted for a month, and used a small group of patients who wanted to take tango lessons. The control group did not follow any exercise regime, which might have shown improvement on its own.
A longer study incorporating core-strengthening exercises and a crossover between patient groups at six weeks is currently under way.
“Argentine tango involves unique techniques that address features that contribute to a Parkinson’s patient’s fall risk. Our study reinforced the hypothesis that there is potential for physical rehabilitation in the dance. Accompanied by an enjoyable social environment and music, Argentine tango allows patients to dance the fall risk away.”
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