Dancing helps Parkinson's patients

Published On: Jun 14 2012 09:42:39 PM EDT

Uncontrollable tremors, and problems with balance and speech. They're just a few of the issues Parkinson's patients deal with every day. While medicine and exercise can help, the cha-cha and the Charleston may also reduce symptoms.

David Akins and his wife dance at home for pleasure."We usually dance to a rock and roll record," said Akins.

"More and more we're seeing neurologists and physicians referring people to these classes," said David Leventhal.

Leventhal is co-founder of Dance for PD.  It began as a way for Parkinson's patients to just have fun.

"Make them move bigger and more freely and more rhythmically, than they might in everyday life," Leventhal explained.

But people like Kay Perkins felt their symptoms improving.

"We find ourselves having opposing muscles fighting one another and this gives us an opportunity to walk like normal people and do normal things," said Kay Perkins a Dance for PD participant.

Dr. Sheila Baez-Torres, a neurologist, admits no one fully understands why it works."We're highly recommending it," said Baez-Torres.

Studies from the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University suggest dancing for Parkinson's can improve balance and walking, Baez-Torres says it might also help with cognitive problems.

"You have to learn the steps and match the steps you learn with rhythm," she said.

Akins says the class is improving his quality of life.

"I could dance all night," he said.

Studies show the dancing meets many, if not all the recommended components of exercise programs designed for Parkinson's patients. But more research needs to be done to figure out the long term effectiveness of dance therapy.

Right now, there are about 60 Dance for PD programs around the world. To learn more about how to bring one to your community go to www.danceforparkinsons.org.