Dancing is all the rage these days, with shows like Dancing With the Stars bringing in top ratings. People are enrolling more in dance classes, and going to the ballrooms in droves.
And evidence coming from University at Massachusetts professor Paul A. Dennis suggests that dance can help people with Huntington’s disease.
An inherited disease, Huntington’s causes nerve cells located in the brain to progressively degenerate, resulting in functional deficits in movement and thinking; psychiatric disorders also accompany the disease.
Dennis, who teaches dance, and his colleagues say that the dance moves help people with Huntington’s maintain their balance, posture, motor learning, and the coordination of their voluntary movements.
Dance also helps people with Huntington’s by engaging their cognitive functions and emotions.
Dennis has been conducting a weekly dance class since 2012 to help people with Huntington’s at Tewksbury Hospital. U. Mass Amherst dance program personnel collaborated with Dennis and the hospital to design a dance program based on Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) as well as Bartenieff Fundamentals.
While Dennis says they have not yet developed a concrete method, they are nevertheless making observations. Mithlesh Garg, a retired clinical/forensic psychologist and neuropsychologist who consults at Tewksbury Hospital, agrees that Dennis’ work is promising.
It is not scientific work yet, but they want to do a pre and post trial, and continue asking questions, running trials, and documenting results. They plan on collecting data on how various movements affect mobility and the overall lives of people with Huntington’s.
They hope to use this data to identify the best components to create a total movement program that is based on LMA.
Dennis’ structured dance classes show promise for both preventative and restorative therapies. Dennis does not know of any current studies that research the effect of practiced movements on slowing down the progression of Huntington’s disease.
This is not the first time clinicians have used LMA for a variety of conditions, like:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Down Syndrome
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Developmental delays
LMA has also been used in a variety of psychiatric settings such as:
- Veterans hospitals
Based on these other applications, Dennis thinks that LMA will have a profound effect on Huntington’s disease. Dennis’ program focuses on core support for balance and stability. Due to the progressive nature of Huntington’s, the patients in Dennis’ class are those who are still able to walk and communicate fairly clearly. Patients typically attend two weekly hour-long sessions.
The trained dancers have had their eyes opened when it comes to these patients. Trained dancers are movement experts and they know everything about controlling balance and stability.