AGING
May 10, 2010

The Senior Hustle

Dancing improves seniors' balance and prevents falls. It also can raise their spirits. A low impact program helps.

Problems with gait and balance are major causes of falls for seniors. A University of Missouri study has found that participation in a dance program significantly improved seniors' gait and balance. And seniors can't seem to get enough of it.

The small pilot study found improvements in walking speed, steadiness and overall functionality in over half of the 11 participants.

The study used a program called Healthy Steps, formerly known as The Lebed Method. This is a low-impact dancing program tailored to the individual tastes and physical needs of the seniors.

Improved mobility does more than just help prevent falls. One reason that seniors become sedentary is because it's difficult for them to walk. People who can easily walk tend to walk more and are up and about more often.

The pilot study was on participants from a program called PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly), a program voluntarily attended by independently living seniors. Study participants attended three dance sessions a week for six weeks. The seniors' mobility was measured at the start of the study and six and 12 weeks into the study. Interviews were also conducted with the seniors to get their impressions of the program and its overall effectiveness.

Encouraged by the results, the researchers conducted a larger study on elderly residents of an independent-living community. This study tested the effect of 18 dance sessions over a two month period. The results, as yet unpublished, were similar to those seen in the pilot study. Many of the participants enjoyed the program so much that they wanted to continue after the program was over.

Improved mobility does more than just help prevent falls. One reason that seniors become sedentary is because it's difficult for them to walk. People who can easily walk tend to walk more and are up and about more often. With better mobility, difficulty walking is no longer a barrier to a more active lifestyle.

The researchers suggest that more nursing and elder care professionals should be looking into dance therapy programs for their patients. The combined effectiveness and popularity of these programs make them a win-win proposition.

As both studies point out, you're never too old to dance.

The results of the pilot study were published in the April/June 2010 issue of Nursing Administration Quarterly.

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