Researchers study benefits of dancing on brain health

Published: Jan. 16, 2020 at 1:19 PM EST
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For many people, dancing is an enjoyable hobby and a way to stay fit. Now new research is looking into whether the activity can boost the brain health of older adults.

Step by step, these senior citizens are learning new dance moves.

Eighty-five year-old Sonia Movsas is one of them. Her mother suffered with memory and thinking problems. So when she heard about a new study looking at whether dancing can improve the brain function of older adults, she knew she wanted to participate. "It's a terrible thing for a human being to forget who they are and where they are," Movsas said.

More than 30 older adults at risk of dementia are taking part in the study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. For six months, twice a week, one group takes dance classes and the other walks on a treadmill. Participants undergo a battery of cognitive tests and imaging.

The college's Dr. Helena Blumen says there is already evidence that exercise and aerobic activity can have a positive effect on the brain, but dancing could have additional benefits.

"So you dance -- that's the aerobic part. But you also dance with other people so you socialize with them, which also has been shown to be effective. And you learn new steps which is cognitively demanding," Blumen said.

Study participants like Marlene Renzulli-Taffe say they're eager to see if dancing can help their brain health because it's a worry for many of them. "I see what dementia does to people but I wouldn't want to do that to them," she said.

After just a few months of dancing regularly, Sonia Movsas says she sees a difference. "I'm very bad at remembering people's names. It's not just when I'm older, I've always been that way. And I know all their names," she said.

Researchers says their study could eventually inspire senior homes to incorporate dance classes.

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