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Ballroom Dancing and Alzheimer's Disease: Fighting Dementia with Dance

Updated on June 21, 2013
Fight dementia with dance.
Fight dementia with dance. | Source

Fight Dementia with Dance

Can ballroom dancing really prevent Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia? According to some researchers, it may help.

Several studies suggest that ballroom dancing and other leisure activities may lower a person's risk of cognitive decline. They may also improve the quality of life that dementia steals from Alzheimer's patients and their loved ones.

According to reports from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), about 35.6 million people live with some type of dementia. ADI expects this number to triple by 2050.

Alzheimer's disease, a debilitating loss of brain function, is the most common type of dementia. Not only does it cause memory problems, but it also affects thinking, behavior, and personality.

Although Alzheimer's disease has age-related risk factors, it is not the "old timer's disease" or "old age senility," that so many people call it. It is not a normal part of aging at all.

In fact, Alzheimer's disease can affect people in their 30s and 40s. It robs them of their essence, ravishing their minds and bodies. Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative and terminal illness that has no cure.

Is Alzheimer's disease preventable? This is a question that continues to intrigue doctors, scientists, and researchers. Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers.

The Alzheimer's Association and other groups continue to fund research into the development and progress of dementia. This is where ballroom dancing and other leisure activities come in, and the research is encouraging.

Ballroom dancing, piano playing, crossword puzzles, and other mental activities appear to keep dementia at bay. According to a couple of well-documented studies -- the Bronx Aging Study and the Religious Orders Study -- activities that challenge the mind may prevent or delay the onset of dementia in older adults.

Bendomino for Alzheimer's

Bendomino: Dominoes with a Twist! Tile Game
Bendomino: Dominoes with a Twist! Tile Game

This curvy dominoes game creates fun patterns that change with each game.


The Bronx Aging Study

The 2003 Bronx Aging Study explored the relationship between leisure activity and dementia. Joe Verghese, a neurologist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, was the study's head researcher.

The 21-year Bronx Aging Study followed 469 cognitively sound adults over the age of 75. It focused on the effects of six different mind-challenging leisure activities.

The findings were robust, even after adjustments were made for age, sex, education, medical illness, and other factors. The participants who stayed mentally active with stimulating leisure activities were 75 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia.

Some of the participants are now taking part in the Einstein Aging Study (EAS), another research program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Supported by grants from the National Institute of Aging (NIA) since 1980, the EAS focuses on the normal, aging brain as well as the special challenges of Alzheimer's and related dementia.

Qwirkle for Alzheimer's

Qwirkle Board Game
Qwirkle Board Game

Play this challenging mind game in different ways, according to the stages of Alzheimer's disease.


The Religious Orders Study

In 2002, R. S. Wilson of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago conducted the Religious Orders Study.

It followed 801 older Catholic clergy members for nearly five years as they pursued leisure activities such as reading books, watching television, and visiting museums.

Like the Bronx Aging Study, the Religious Orders Study showed promising results. It found that the risk of Alzheimer's disease decreased as the leisure activities increased.

Those who engaged in mind-challenging activities several times a week were 47 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who participated only a few times a month.

Tangle for Alzheimer's

Tangle Creations Tangle Therapy
Tangle Creations Tangle Therapy

This therapy device takes an ergonomic approach to mind wellness, stress relief, and hand therapy.


Mental Exercise for the Brain

Many adults withdraw from leisure activities as they age or retire from work. Although their lives take a calmer, slower-paced turn, they often become more restricted.

Neurologists encourage older adults to engage in ballroom dancing, learn a musical instrument, complete crossword puzzles -- anything that exercises their brains.

Mental activities stimulate the brain and keep it healthy. Just as healthy bodies fight physical disease, healthy brains are more likely to resist mental illness. The key is finding an enjoyable activity that is also mentally challenging.

“It doesn't matter where you start off from, what you do, or what education you have, as long as you get the brain working,” said Verghese in an interview for The Sunday Times of London.

Lock Box for Alzheimer's

TAG Toys SM11 Lock Box Memory Game
TAG Toys SM11 Lock Box Memory Game

This wooden box has doors, hinges, and compartments that exercise memory and motor skills.


Ballroom Dance for the Brain

Does physical activity have the same effect as mental exercise on the development of Alzheimer's disease? Researchers say that it depends on the activity.

According to the studies, ballroom dancing appears to be one physical activity that can delay the onset of dementia. It is a cognitive activity as well as a physical exercise. It requires mental concentration and focus.

"Ballroom dancing involves precise physical activity, listening to the music, remembering dance steps, and taking your partner into account, which is very mentally testing,” said Verghese.

Dancing may be more effective for preventing dementia than working crossword puzzles. The mental challenge of dancing requires a person to think harder. Unlike physical activity, however, hard thinking cannot wear out the brain. In fact, the more people use their “brain muscles,” the sharper they become mentally.

Ballroom dancing is an easy and inexpensive way to fight dementia. According to Jacqueline C. Dominguez, the Memory Center director at St. Luke’s Medical Center in the Philippines, "ballroom dancing has everything in it for people to keep their wits."

Dance your way to better health.
Dance your way to better health. | Source

Dancing for Better Health

The brain work involved in ballroom dancing does not negate the importance of the physical aspect of dancing. Just as mental exercise is important as a person ages, so is physical activity.

Ballroom dancing is an excellent low-impact exercise, and it provides a mildly aerobic workout. It improves flexibility, builds stamina, strengthens the heart muscle and bones, and burns calories. It is also a good way to relieve stress and depression.

Ballroom dance encompasses various styles, so people are not limited to just one type of dance. Ballroom dancing has something for everyone: the waltz, foxtrot, tango, samba, rumba, mambo, cha cha, jitterbug, and more.

What better way to improve physical fitness and fight dementia than a good dance?

Vita Wellness Center: Ballroom Dancing Your Way to Health

Reference Sources / Further Reading

Health / Medical Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended as health or medical advice, and it is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional.

Ballroom dancing and other leisure activities may lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Ballroom dancing and other leisure activities may lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. | Source

Copyright © 2011. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.

Published: October 1, 2011 / Modified: June 21, 2013.

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    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hi, Anya. I hope you liked this article. Thank you for stopping by!

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      This is so true! Ballroom dancing gives you such a mental workout!


    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Just a note to those who find their way to this post and the comments -- In the United States, November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. It is also National Family Caregivers Month. My heart goes out to all who are touched by AD in one way or another. God bless you!

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 4 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Thank you, dementiacaregiver. My father lived with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and the hereditary risk factors concern me. So I found this to be an interesting topic to research. I'm happy to share what I learned, and I appreciate the thumbs up!

    • dementiacaregiver profile image

      dementiacaregiver 4 years ago

      Very interesting. I have been hearing but never understood how it could help. Your article really gave good information on how it may help.I will definitely give this a thumbs up!

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette R. Smith 5 years ago from Grand Island, Florida

      Hello, MsDora. Thank you for reading my article and sharing a word here. I appreciate your input. My father had early onset Alzheimer's disease, which may be an inherited disorder. So I try to exercise my brain every which way I can!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Annette. The fact I'm taking away from your article is that "ballroom dancing is more effective than working crossword puzzles for preventing dementia." I'm calling my girlfriend today to let her know. I would have voted for puzzles, but she likes ballroom dancing. Voted Up.