AN ITALIAN doctor has remarkably discovered that traditional Irish dancing can, in effect, cure Parkinson’s disease.
Doctor Daniele Volpe noticed that performing an Irish jig can override the neurological impediments that affect the gait in those suffering from the condition.
The incredible findings have shown that even sufferers who struggle to walk are suddenly able to move freely and uncompromised when performing the dance.
It’s unclear exactly why this happens.
Some believe it to be the rhythm of the music itself, that the upbeat pattern of the Irish jig provides the brain with enough periodic acoustic cues to override the degenerative disorder’s effect on the nervous system.
It may also be that due to the constant need to change feet during the dance, performers are required to be constantly shifting their balance and transferring weight from one leg to another in such a consistent pattern that they can bypass their neurological impediments.
If that all sounds a bit confusing, let’s just agree that dancing just makes your life better, doesn’t it?
Dr Volpe, a keen musician who - despite his Italian heritage - frequently visits Ireland to play in a traditional Irish band, first noticed something when he was due to perform in Peppers Pub in the village of Feakle, Co. Clare, back in 2010.
Incredibly, Irish dancing could help to counteract the effects of Parkinson's disease
He saw a man enter the pub who appeared to be suffering from Parkinson’s. He was left aghast, however, when 20 minutes later, the man who had previously struggled to walk, was up on the stage, effortlessly performing Irish trad.
He decided to perform an experiment back in Italy to see if this was just a bizarre occurrence or an opportunity for a scientific breakthrough.
He recruited 24 subjects who were suffering from the disease and split them into two groups.
Over a six-month period, he treated half of them with conventional physiotherapy, and the other half he treated with regular Irish set dance courses.
While both forms of therapy were successful, the Irish dance group improved more in every measurable category.
Below is an incredible video of Dr Volpe’s patients performing their disease-battling jigs:
Italian Doctor’s Love for Irish Music Inspires Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trial
Fox Meeting Notes: We report on the latest news in Parkinson’s disease research, live from the Movement Disorder Society International Congress in Dublin, Ireland.
About a year ago, on one of his frequent trips to his beloved County Clare, Dr. Daniele Volpe, of Venice, Italy watched a man walk into a bar. Dr. Volpe was playing guitar in an Irish folk band, but he paused as he noticed the man’s slow, halting gait. These symptoms were familiar to Dr. Volpe – He works in a clinic that specializes in physiotherapy designed to help people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
As Dr. Volpe resumed playing, he noticed the man rise from his seat in the bar, and he began to dance – traditional Irish set dance, he would later learn. Dr. Volpe smiled before the proverbial light went on in his noggin – could Irish set dance work as therapy for people struggling with the motor symptoms of PD? It was worth a shot. So, at last year’s Movement Disorders Society congress, he brought up the idea with the leading Irish neurologist Dr. Timothy Lynch, who was quickly also hooked.
Fast forward one year to this week in Dublin. That initial nugget culled from a bar in County Clare has turned into positive results from an observational study. It also became an MDS Congress performance by a team of Venetian Irish set dancers who all have PD.
We sat down with Dr. Volpe between meetings here to learn a little bit more about his love for Irish music, and what set dancing (and other forms of exercise) could mean for people living with PD.
Please note: The Michael J. Fox Foundation does not endorse any one particular therapy or treatment regimen, and we encourage all patients to discuss therapeutic options, including those involving exercise, with their treating physicians.
MJFF: Tell us about how you found your way to that bar in County Clare.
DV: I love Ireland, it is such a beautiful country, and I adore their music. I come to County Clare twice a year to play guitar in an Irish folk band, and on that day, I was playing alongside the famous banjo player Charlie Piggott. I noticed that this man used a cane to walk into the bar. But then he started dancing without any difficulty. I was impressed. I also noticed that he was using a real dance step, and immediately I thought that his steps could be particularly interesting when thinking about improving gait.
MJFF: What do you mean by the fact that the steps were “particularly interesting for improving gait?”
DV: First of all, there is much research that says that exercise in general is good for people with PD. But specifically, many with Parkinson’s have difficulty changing direction. Irish set dance allows people with PD to overcome freezing of gait when turning by maintaining a consistent step length (these steps are called “reel steps” in Irish dancing). Reel steps also help them to better transfer their weight more naturally. I believe this dancing may help people with Parkinson’s to re-learn how to make these movements.
MJFF: You also talk about “acoustic cues” being useful for people struggling with PD motor symptoms. What does this mean?
DV: In Parkinson’s disease, we’ve found that people move better sometimes under certain conditions. For example, they may see something take place in front of them that inspires them to walk forward, or, they may hear something that helps them to move better. Irish folk music has a very strong rhythm, so it may be that this helps the brain to recognize it’s time to move. Another factor which shouldn’t be discounted is the sense of community that dancing and music instills in patients. It can be a real motivating factor for people with PD who may not want to dance. By getting them to exercise, we are already making an important first step.
MJFF: Tell us more about the study’s findings on the whole, and what they could mean for people with PD.
DV: We recruited 24 subjects for the study, which took place over the course of six months. Twelve underwent traditional physiotherapy, while 12 more took Irish set dance courses (for two hours weekly) which I designed with the help of an Irish set dance studio in Venice (yes, it’s true!). I wanted to make sure that the steps were accurate from the perspective of physiotherapy. Then, we ran both groups through some clinical tests and gait analysis. Both experienced significant improvements in the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), Berg Balance Scale (BBS), and in quality of life measurements like number of falls and walking speed. But in each case, the Irish set dance group improved more. Also, only the dance group experienced significant improvement in self-reported freezing of gait and in the Time Up and Go test (TUG). T he dance group also showed a significant improvement in the Caregiver Burden Inventory (CBI), which suggests the high social value of Irish set dance. The results were very intriguing.
MJFF: What’s next? More Irish step dance at next year’s Congress?
DV: I hope so! This, of course, was a small study, so we’ll need to a real recruit more people for a large scale study to confirm the results. We’re also putting together an instruction manual which shows how you can implement Irish set dance into a real physiotherapeutic program incorporating evidence based medicine. There’s an Irish festival in Venice in 2013, and I’d love for us to be able to put on a larger scale performance then.
A new study published in Brain Sciences shows that patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson's disease (PD) can slow the progress of the disease by participating in dance training with music for one-and-a-quarter hours per week. Over the course of three years, this activity was found to reduce daily motor issues such as those related to balance and speech, which often lead to social isolation.
Joseph DeSouza, senior author, principal investigator and associate professor in the Department of Psychology at York University and Ph.D. candidate Karolina Bearss, found people with Parkinson's (PwPD) who participated in weekly dance training, had less motor impairment and showed significant improvement in areas related to speech, tremors, balance and rigidity compared to those who did not do any dance exercise. Their data showed significant improvements in experiences of daily living, which include cognitive impairment, hallucinations, depression and anxious mood such as sadness. The study showed overall that non-motor aspects of daily living, motor experiences of daily living, motor examination symptoms and motor complications did not show any impairment across time among the dance-trained PwPD group compared to PwPD who do not dance.
The study is the first of its kind to follow PwPD over a three-year period during weekly dance participation with music, providing additional information regarding the nature of progression of motor and non-motor PD symptoms.
"The experience of performing and being in a studio environment with dance instructors appears to provide benefits for these individuals," said DeSouza. "Generally, what we know is that dance activates brain areas in those without PD. For those with Parkinson's disease even when it's mild motor impairment can impact their daily functioning—how they feel about themselves. Many of these motor symptoms lead to isolation because once they get extreme, these people don't want to go out. These motor symptoms lead to further psychological issues, depression, social isolation and eventually the symptoms do get worse over time. Our study shows that training with dance and music can slow this down and improve their daily living and daily function."
The goal of the research was to create a long-term neurorehabilitation strategy to combat the symptoms of PD. In the study, researchers looked at how a multi-sensory activity, (like dance with music learning) which incorporated the use and stimulation of several sensory modalities in the dance environment including vision, audition, tactile perception, proprioception, kinesthesia, social organization and expression, olfactory, vestibular and balance control—may influence many of the mood, cognitive, motor and neural challenges faced by PwPD.
Researchers followed collected data from PwPD over three-and-a-half years while they learned choreography over the first year and performed it, that is designed to be adaptable to the disease stage and current symptoms for PwPD.
In the study, 16 participants with mild-to-moderate PD (11 males, five females) with an average age of 69, were tested between October 2014 and November 2017. They were matched for age and severity of disease. Each participant took part in a 1.25-hour dance class at Canada's National Ballet School (NBS) and Trinity St. Paul's church locations. Dancers participated in dance exercises which provided both aerobic and anaerobic movements. This group was then compared to 16 non-dance PwPD participants (the reference group) chosen from a larger PwPD cohort from the Parkinson's Progression Marker Initiative (PPMI), a longitudinal research project funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) and related funding partners.
Classes began with live music accompaniment during the seated warm-up, followed by barre work, and ended with moving across the floor. All participants learned choreography for an upcoming performance. Researchers recorded videos, conducted paper and pen questionnaires of all participants and performed statistical analyses.
"Dance is so complex, it's a multi-sensory type of environment," said Bearss. "It incorporates and stimulates your auditory, tactile, visual and kinesthetic senses and adds an interactive social aspect. Regular exercise does not offer these aspects. There's so much more to dance."
Researchers will next examine what occurs in the brain immediately before and after a dance class to determine what neurological changes take place.
"Currently there is no precise intervention with PD and usual remedies are pharmacological interventions, but not many options are given for alternate exercises or additional interventions to push their brains," said DeSouza. "Hopefully this data will shed light on additional therapies for this group and be used in the treatment process. There may be changes in the brain that occur with dance with music, but more research is necessary."
More information: Karolina A. Bearss et al, Parkinson's Disease Motor Symptom Progression Slowed with Multisensory Dance Learning over 3-Years: A Preliminary Longitudinal Investigation, Brain Sciences (2021). DOI: 10.3390/brainsci11070895
TORONTO -- People living with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease can improve their motor function and quality of life with weekly dance classes, a new study has found.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological illness that affects the nervous system and occurs when nerve cells in the brain degenerate. The loss or impairment of nerve cells progressively leads to dysfunction in motor skills, such as walking, keeping one’s balance, and speech impairment.
“Currently there is no precise intervention with PD [Parkinson’s disease] and usual remedies are pharmacological interventions, but not many options are given for alternate exercises or additional interventions to push their brains,” Joseph DeSouza, senior author of the study and associate professor at York University, said in a press release. “The experience of performing and being in a studio environment with dance instructors appears to provide benefits for these individuals.”
The study was done over a span of three years – between October 2014 and November 2017 – and involved 11 males and five females for a total of 16 participants. The average age of people who took part in the study was 69 and all participants had mild to moderate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
For this study, researchers looked at how a multi-sensory activity like dance could influence the cognitive and motor challenges that those with Parkinson’s disease face. Participants would attend dance classes for an hour and 15 minutes every week at Canada’s National Ballet school, and in the weekly classes, they would start off with a seated warm-up, barre work, and finish off the class with movements across the room. Participants also learned choreography.
While analyzing the classes, researchers found that those who danced showed less impairment in motor skills compared to 16 people living with Parkinson’s disease who did not participate in the dance classes. Researchers also saw an improvement in speech and stiffness.
“Dance is so complex, it’s a multi-sensory type of environment,” PhD candidate Karoline Bearss, who helped conduct the study, said in a statement. “It incorporates and stimulates your auditory, tactile, visual, and kinesthetic senses and adds an interactive social aspect. Regular exercise does not offer these aspects. There’s so much more to dance.”
Those who took part in weekly dance classes also showed an improvement in quality of life, which DeSouza says is often affected when Parkinson’s begins to hinder their motor skills and cognitive abilities.
“For those with Parkinson’s disease, even when it’s mild, motor impairment can impact their daily functioning – how they feel about themselves. Many of these motor symptoms lead to isolation because once they get extreme, these people don’t want to go out,” he said.
“These motor symptoms lead to further psychological issues, depression, social isolation and eventually the symptoms do get worse over time. Our study shows that training with dance and music can slow this down and improve their daily living and daily function.”
With this research, DeSouza said that he hopes there will be more treatment alternatives for those living with Parkinson’s disease, and though there may be changes in the brain with dance, more research is needed.