Movement disorders are a broad category of illnesses that include Parkinson's disease and related disorders. They are generally the result of a neurochemical imbalance. In the case of Parkinson's, it is due to a lack of dopamine in the area of the brain controlling the fluidity of movements.
Typical symptoms include a tremor along with very slow, stiff movements. Treatment involves supplementing the dopamine in the brain while increasing the sensitivity of dopamine receptors.
Standard physical therapy regimens consist of range of motion exercises to avoid tightening of joints. More recent programs emphasize balance and stretching by utilizing yoga and tai chi.
Dance has now become an accepted complementary modality in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Dance programs are generally held in group sessions for patients and caregivers. A study performed at Washington University compared patients enrolled in Argentine tango classes to those receiving non-dance therapies. The tango group fared better regarding slowed progression and improved function. The Argentine tango was especially appropriate for this study since it requires dynamic balance, frequent turns, variable speeds and walking backward.
Locally, a weekly dance class for patients with Parkinson's disease and their caregivers has been ongoing at Connecticut College. These classes, led by instructor Rachel Balaban, are designed to improve the strength, stamina and balance of participants. "The dance program addresses the physical and emotional needs of patients by providing an outlet for both patients and caregivers," said Balaban.
While dance therapy may be an unconventional treatment for Parkinson's, it has certainly proven to be effective.