|Save Your Brain. Dance!|
|The Einstein Aging Study, summarized in June 19, 2003 New England Journal of Medicine, found that dancing helps prevent dementia.
Dementia in the study refers to both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Vascular dementia
is the 2nd most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's.
The study included participants in six brain-stimulating hobbies - reading, writing for pleasure, doing puzzles, board games or playing cards, group discussions and playing music.
Researchers found that the relationship between the mind-stimulating
effects of dancing, as well as in the above six types of hobbies, and the
lowered risk of dementia remained strong even after they allowed for
The need to learn and remember numerous dance movements produces a constant
and very beneficial challenge to the brain.
Fitness, both mental and physical, often begins with one's state of mind.
Many people have gotten the message. That's why we see increasing numbers of people of all ages having the time of their lives on dance floors all over the county. They are receiving a double payoff, mental and physical.
Keep Your Brain Alive!
|The study, by scientists at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, USA, appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.|
|Might Dancing Delay Dementia? Experts Can't Say, but Enthusiasts Like the Beat|
|By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 14, 2003; Page HE01
|There's this guy I dance with, Arnold Taylor. He has firm hands and shoulders, and his favorite eight-step swing move has this merry-go-round feel to it.
Everything in the periphery is ablur except his face, which usually bears a broad grin.
|He's strong -- a fact he underscores by introducing himself, with a wink, simply as "Ahnoldt." This faux Schwarzenegger's dance card is usually pretty full. And when he walks, it's more like he's swaggering to a syncopated beat.It's easy to mistake this 78-year-old retired reverend for a lady's man. But really, when he's on the dance floor, he's just reflecting the spiritual joy he's gotten out of his favorite form of recreation."What do I like most about dance? Oh, well, the sort of happy human relationship. Being with somebody and having fun," he says.|
|Long-time dancers like Taylor know what the medical community is lately starting to find some evidence of: the realization that dancing is good for you. Particularly, as it turns out, for older people.|
|In a recent study of nearly 500 people by the Albert Einstein Center in the Bronx, N.Y., dancing was the only regular physical activity associated with a significant decrease in the incidence of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.|
|Alzheimer's, which slowly degrades brain and memory function, affects 4 million Americans over the age of 60. Dementia, a broader category of diminished mental ability, affects between 6 million and 7 million.|
|"Dance is not purely physical in many ways, it also requires a lot of mental effort," said Joseph Verghese, the lead researcher of the study, published in June in the New England Journal of Medicine.|
|Though many studies have explored the relationship between activity and dementia, he said, "if you review them, the [activities] that are purely physical do not seem to have any effect reducing dementia."|
|"Certainly among my patients [who dance], their posture is different and the way they walk is different," Verghese said. Changes in walking patterns, he said, are often symptoms of mental decline.
|Among the participants in the Verghese study, those who danced frequently -- three or four times a week -- showed 76 percent less incidence of dementia than those who danced only once a week or not at all.|
|The same study showed that doing puzzles, mind games and other mentally stimulating activities also reduce the incidence of dementia, but that purely physical activities -- swimming, bicycling, walking, climbing stairs -- had no preventive value.|
|The results don't surprise Jamie Platt, 53, an analyst for the Social Security Administration who gets his kicks folk dancing, Balkan, Turkish and Armenian style."I have a very sedentary kind of job. But when I go dancing, I get my ya-yas out," said Platt, "It keeps me very vibrant. The dances that we do have very complex footwork. You have to think about the complex rhythms. So it keeps you on the ball," Platt said.|
|So what is it about dance that might make it life- and brain- enhancing? The short answer, said Verghese: "I really don't know."
True, it involves movement, and there are dozens of studies that show -- even if the Einstein Center study didn't -- a positive correlation between physical exercise of all kinds and mental health.
|Essentially, exercise seems to jazz the brain.
|Sustained aerobic activity involves not just those parts of the brain that control motor and sensory functions, but also the hippocampus -- the section responsible for memory and many other cognitive functions, said Carl W. Cotman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine."It's surprising, because you'd think, 'What's that got to do with movement?' but it does," said Cotman, who studies the influence of exercise on the brains of rats and mice. In animals that exercise, the connections between brain cells grow stronger, and a protein (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF) shown to improve neuron survival increases.|
|In addition, Cotman says -- citing a finding that supports the theory that dance is better for your brain than other fitness activities -- physically active animals that have an "emotional support system," like interacting with other animals, see even more benefits in their brains.|
|Or it's possible that dance may not turn out to be a buffer at all.
|The Einstein Center study has many critics. "I think there is nothing unique about dance in particular that is beneficial for Alzheimer's," said Bill Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer's Association. "The numbers involved in [the Einstein Center] research are too small, and a correlation, or a causal relationship, is difficult to establish."|
|Verghese's study followed 469 people over the age of 75 -- none of whom showed signs of dementia at the start -- from 1980 to 2001.
The participants underwent a series of clinical and neuropsychological tests at enrollment, and were tested every 12 to 18 months after that.
Within this group, 130 people danced frequently (three or more times a week), 83 swam frequently, 26 bicycled frequently and 19 played games frequently. For Thies, those numbers are problematic.
|Definitive studies, he said, examine more than 10,000 people for a decade or more. He's not the only critic. "There are inherent limitations to these kinds of studies because they are behavioral and self-selected," meaning, in this case, that the group included only those without a condition that would keep them off the dance floor,"said David Bennett, a doctor of neurology and director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Chicago. "You don't see the people who are not dancing."|
|"It's difficult to determine whether something is acting on the brain when a person dances that actually reduces the risk of mental decline," said Bennett. "There may be something about dance that attracts a certain type of person who is less depressed, more social and less stressed," all qualities that could also help stave off dementia, he said.
More studies are needed to test which qualities actually are affecting the brain, he said.Losing GripResearch hasn't produced a consensus on what protects against dementia, either. Some studies show that people with higher levels of education -- and therefore, presumably, more developed brains -- tend to be less likely to develop dementia.
Other studies link brain health with a healthful diet and good circulation. Still others suggest that people with depressive personalities are more prone to dementia later in life.
|Dementia usually leaves markers. Brain scans sometimes show deposits of the protein amyloid, which essentially creates roadblocks for brain signals. Other people have plaques and tangles, knots of intertwined, dysfunctional nerve cells. Sometimes there are lesions on the brain tissue. Sometimes the brain shrinks.
A study published in July showed that elderly women who were overweight developed Alzheimer's disease with greater frequency than those of lesser weight. Among 260 Swedish women, those who were overweight or obese at age 70 were more likely than others of similar age to develop dementia or Alzheimer's in their eighties. "When you're considering a disease of late life, it's never one factor working in isolation," said Deborah Gustafson, whose research on Swedish women appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Other common ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes have also been linked to higher rates of dementia. "But we still found there's an independent effect between high body fat and dementia," said Gustafson.
|Most dance burns fat. "It's great exercise for the body. The body needs to move, and dancing gets the blood flowing," said Craig Hutchinson, 60, president of the Potomac Swing Dance Club, who has been dancing the since the age of 11.A
Turn on the FloorDancers, meanwhile, don't let science get in the way of their own theories about the value of dance. They variously claim it's the healing power of touch, the spiritual oneness of mind and body or even the regular stress relief that makes it good for the brain.
|Donna Barker, who has taught swing, waltz and Argentine tango in the Washington area since 1984, says the Einstein Center study simply validates what is common knowledge among dancers."Human touch is healing," said Barker. "It's a no-brainer. . . . Why does social dance do it and tennis not? It's because you're touching somebody."
Ann Smith, 76, who made a career of modern dance with the Alvin Ailey company, also needs no convincing as to the therapeutic value of dance. "It just stands to reason," said Smith, who lives in Alexandria for half the year and teaches dance to students as old as 91.
"Mentally, [dancing] exchanges positive air for negative air" and engages the body and the brain in a kind of meditation, Smith said. "I would doubt very much that I would go the Alzheimer's route."
|Research may still be far from being able to prove that dance is, in fact, good for aging minds. But it's difficult to dispute that, on the whole, dancers have a lot of positive energy.|
|Like my buddy Arnold Taylor. He danced through what must have been two of the grimmest periods of his youth: the Great Depression and World War II. But when he tells stories about his past in his usual animated fashion, he's generally talking about how he and his sister showed off their dance moves in the Grange halls of western Massachusetts during the 1930s.|
|Or about spending weekends in England in the 1940s hitting on girls at dances featuring the music of Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington.
It's the dancing he remembers; somehow, the penny-pinching family budgets and the ravages of wartime London don't steal his story.Who knows why some things -- dance steps or brain power -- come back, while others never do?
|While science tries to identify whether it's the drugs we take, the diet we eat or the dances we do, maybe the sensible thing to do to stave off dementia is to hit the dance floor.
It may not work, but it's lots of fun.
|•© 2003 The Washington Post Company
"Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly"
from the June 19 2003 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine
(vol 348, pages 2508--2516).
|These items were raised on the international Rikud chat list
Special thanks to Robin Winston, J. Rosen, Loui Tucker and Larry Denenberg of the United States for these articles and links.