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Protective dance against AD, dementia? | Latest news for doctors, nurses and pharmacists


Studies presented at AAIC 2022 show that dancing may be a protective factor against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia in older adults.

In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 studies (n = 943; mean age 72 years), researchers sought to assess the effect of dance movement interventions (DMIs) on the psychological health of older adults not suffering from dementia. Half of the cohort performed DMI (e.g., creative dance, ballroom/ballroom dance, tai chi with music) while the other half were only instructed to perform passive movements. [AAIC 2022, abstract 62228]

After an average duration of 16 weeks, IMD was found to be associated with an increase in general psychological health compared to passive movements (effect size [ES], 0.31; p=0.01).

Even when the psychological health* groups were separated, there were similar trends in favor of DMI (SE, 0.26; p=0.12 [positive cluster] and ES, 0.30; p=0.08 [negative cluster]).

DMI also had a small positive effect on general cognition (ES, 0.48; p=0.04).

“[Our findings suggest that] in older people, IMDs are associated with better psychological health, while improving cognitive health,” said Odile Podolski of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Dresden, Germany. “[Hence,] dance-based activities can serve as a holistic tool and protective lifestyle factor in the healthy aging process.

High-quality intervention studies are warranted to strengthen existing evidence on psychological constructs, as well as to identify underlying mechanisms of action and neurophysiological correlates, Podolski added.

social dance

In another study, Associate Professor Helena Blumen of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, USA, and colleagues compared the relative effectiveness of social ballroom dancing to treadmill walking for improve executive function** and functional neuroplasticity in 25 older adults at increased risk of AD and related dementias (mean age 76.5 years, 66% women). [AAIC 2022, abstract 63172]

“[We looked into this given] preliminary evidence showing that social dancing may yield greater benefits than treadmill walking on Digital Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) performance and reduce hippocampal atrophy,” Blumen said.

Participants were asked to perform their respective activities for 90 minutes twice a week for 6 months. Sixteen participants completed the intervention before the end of the study due to COVID-19 (eight in each arm).

There were significant before and after changes in composite executive functions
with both social dance and treadmill
walking, but the difference between the groups was not significant (1.16 vs 0.99; p = 0.77). “They were just as effective,” Blumen said.

There were also no significant differences between the groups in terms of functional activation patterns during the DSST, Flanker and Walking-While-Talking tasks, she added.

However, in terms of selected measures of executive function, the change before and after DSST performance was greater in the social group.dance than the walking arm on a treadmill (p = 0.02). In addition, the reduction in hippocampal volume (hippocampal atrophy) was less in the first arm than in the last (0.07% versus 9.51%; p = 0.01).

“It is important to identify safe and effective interventions to prevent and/or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, because there is no cure and the number of cases of dementia continues to increase,” Blumen said.

Traditional aerobic exercises such as walking and treadmill running have shown modest benefits on cognition, particularly executive function, but long-term adherence is particularly poor in older adults.

“These preliminary results are encouraging and provide some support for our hypothesis that social dancing may be more beneficial than traditional aerobic activities,” she continued, calling for future large-scale trials to verify the results.