Parkinson’s is a neurological condition that most often affects adults over the age of 60, although rare, it can also present itself within adults under the age of 50. It is said that 1 in 500 people have Parkinson’s, so within the UK that’s around 128,000 people living with Parkinson’s. While it is important to note that suffers of Parkinson’s each have a different set of symptoms, most often associated with the condition are motor symptoms, symptoms that effect movement. Suffers may experience tremors, slowness, falls and freezing, to name a few motor symptoms. Along with other symptoms that affect the mental health of the patient, like memory loss, anxiety and depression (Parkinsons.org). As the condition is progressive symptoms slowly builds, but no two suffers will experience the same symptoms in the same order, it is also true that the condition will build at different rates in different people. As the condition progresses it may be appropriate to increase the amount of care given to the patient or increase the amount of treatment/therapy given, although many patients are still able to live fairly independent lives. It is important to note that I have no hands on experience with members of community with Parkinson’s and so details within this piece are details gained from research, not practical experience.
There are three main treatments for Parkinson’s: Medication, Surgery and Complimentary Therapies.
Medication is often the treatment many go to, not just with Parkinson’s, first as it is more widely used than others and people “know” it’s working. Here I refer to “know” in quotations as it is worthy to note the Placebo effect where by the act of taking the tablet alone can help with the illness or disease, be it stress or Chronic Pain and it is also true that the Placebo effect can happen for Parkinson’s sufferers (Fuente-Fernández et al., 2001). Most of the drugs available for Parkinson’s patients work by increasing the amount of Dopamine within the brain be that by stimulation of the receptors or through decreasing the breakdown of Dopamine. MOA-B inhibitors, Ergoline Dopamine Agonists, and NMDA antagonists all work in this way, increasing Dopamine concentration, although the cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, one theory, that provides valid treatment is the Dopamine, is that the loss of Dopamine producing nerve-cells within the brain causes the messages that relay movement information to become delayed or altered as there is less Dopamine within the brain to carry the message. However, as with most medication, Parkinson’s drugs have side effects, most common are nausea and hypotension, many medications may also, perhaps surprisingly for some, cause psychosis and hallucinations when the dosage is not quite right for the patient. Different medications come with different side effects, and I’ve only listed a few of the side effects (Stacey, 2009).
Surgery is not a long term solution to the problem, it only helps reduce motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, and is used in conjunction to medication. The main surgeries used for Parkinson’s are Deep Brain Simulation (DBS) and Lesioning. DBS involves placing a small wires with electrodes into the brain that are connected to a device, placed under the skin in the stomach or chest area, that allows electrical signals to be sent to the brain, this surgery is non-destructive. Lesioning is a technique whereby the surgeon creates legions, this is selective damage, to a certain area of the brain. In Parkinson’s patients these area tend to be the globus pallidus, subthalamic nucleus and more rarely nowadays the thalamus. The surgery aims to decrease symptoms and is irreversible.
Complimentary Therapy is a broad title given to many different therapy options. The term includes acupuncture, homeopathy, meditation, Alexander technique and dance therapy, as well as more traditional therapies like occupational therapy and physiotherapy. While therapy is also not a long-term solution to the problem, it becomes a way of managing the disease and a way to notice how the disease is progressing while also discovering how to live with the effects the disease is having on the body.
Dance is a way for people to discover how their bodies can move and recognise the limits of movement we have. The idea that dance can be used to help relieve pain is not a new idea, and dancers have known for a long time the benefits of dance to there own sense of self. It is only recently that the power of dance has been accessed by those with disease as a way of managing the disease. Using dance classes as a therapy is something that began in America about 15 years ago, through a collaboration between the Director of Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group, an ex-dancer herself, and the Mark Morris Dance Group. The initial inspiration for the collaboration was the knowledge that dancers train their bodies to move with confidence and create cognitive strategies in order to perfect movements, it was hoped that this training could also benefit those with Parkinson’s (Dance for PD). The programme developed in Brooklyn took off and the founders created a teacher training course and in 2009 Dance Umbrella organised a training course in the UK. The English National Ballet then went on to trial classes and research on the classes was conducted. After 12 weeks Parkinson’s patients found increases in balance and stability, also noting that all participants were highly motivated to go to the sessions, “It didn’t matter how bad I felt I always wanted to go” (Houston and McGill, 2012: 9).
Social aspects of dance may also help increase the well-being of those with Parkinson’s as dance classes are social they include interaction with others, and when going to a dance session dedicated to Parkinson’s suffers you’re also surrounded by those who have similar problems and can understand what it’s like. Having social interaction in a dance setting may also help with mood management, not just in those with Parkinson’s, as found by a paper by Lewis et al., (2014). Dancing showed a significant mood change within those with Parkinson’s and those without for both short and long periods of time. Additionally finding that anger was significantly reduced over a 12 week period of weekly dance classes, as well as mood disturbances in general being reduced.
Dance engages with the body and music allowing the mind and body to connect in order to work out rhythmical body movements. While able bodied may take moving when we want to for granted it is important to understand that even simple movements like typing or making a cup of tea use a lot of neural networks that can be easily disrupted. By learning to dance the brain can create new neural networks that can allow for movement fluidity within those suffering from Parkinson’s. Learning dance can also be a great way to keep the brain occupied as you become motivated to remember the sequence of steps you may find yourself practicing while the kettle is boiling and this is a great way of increasing the likelihood of completing physiotherapy tasks, without it feeling like a chore.
While dance may not be for every Parkinson’s suffer it is an outlet that may be beneficial to such suffers, through the increased engagement in movement activities it may increase the confidence and in turn decrease the social isolation a sufferer may feel. Benefits have also been shown from going to just one class so there is no harm in trying a session near you out. For more information and to find classes near you in the UK use the Dance For Parkinsons UK site.
I will leave you with this relatively short clip about Dance for Parkinson’s created by the founders in Brooklyn.
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