NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There are five and a half million people with Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States, and that number is expected to triple over the next few decades.
While there’s no cure, there may be a non-drug therapy involving dancing that can slow the brain-robbing disease.
It sounds simple, but there’s some serious neuroscience behind it. Dancing involves hearing, vision, motor skills, and remembering dance steps and emotions of when you danced as a younger person. Activating all those brain circuits could be important.
Some of the residents at the Bristal Assisted Living Center at Lake Success on Long Island are part of an important study into whether dance can have a beneficial impact on Alzheimer’s Disease.
Feinstein Institute neuroscience student and trained dance therapist Cecilia Fontanesi explained to CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez how important eye contact and facial expressions are to connecting with the residents.
“I’m lucky that I have a face that just mirrors expressions, and I can’t really control my face so much,” the PhD candidate said.
The Bristal Center is a memory care home that is partnering with the Feinstein Institute for medical research at Northwell Health on the study comparing the residents who take dance therapy with those who don’t. There’s a battery of tests at three-month intervals to measure the participants’ cognitive function.
Dr. Peter Davies, director of the Institute’s Litwin-Zucker Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders, says there’s strong reasons to believe that can help.
“It offers so many routes into the brain,” he said. “So many ways to activate the brain. The visual aspects of looking at your partner, looking at the instructor, the music. So you’re hearing, you’re moving. The dance steps, you have to think to some extent about how to move.”
Integrating those varied brain circuits may make the difference, and if not, the residents at least have fun with it.
The medications currently out for Alzheimer’s have very little impact on the disease, so anything that can slow the disease or even improve function somewhat can be a huge boon to patients and their families or caregivers.
Also unlike drugs, there are no bad side effects to dancing.