Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dance and Dementia

A large (469 subjects) , long term (21yrs) study published in 2003 compared the effects of several leisure activities, cognitive and physical, on the outcome of dementia. Despite what much of the internet says, this study does not conclude that dancing reduces the incidence of dementia. In fact, they make no claims that any physical activity reduces risk and further conclude that cognitive activities need further examination to determine whether their role is causal or consequential in relation to the development of dementia.

‘Among cognitive activities, reading, playing board games, and playing musical instruments were associated with a lower risk of dementia. Dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia. Fewer than 10 subjects played golf or tennis, so the relation between these activities and dementia was not assessed.’ (Other physical activities examined included doing housework, climbing stairs, bicycling, swimming, playing team games, babysitting, and participating in group exercise).

‘A one-point increment in the cognitive-activity score, which corresponds to participation in an activity for one day per week, was associated with a reduction of 7 percent in the risk of dementia.’

‘Perhaps reduced participation in leisure activities is an early marker of dementia that precedes the declines on cognitive tests. Alternatively, participation in leisure activities may be a marker of behavior that promotes health. But the specificity of our findings for cognitive activities and not physical activities argues against this hypothesis… despite the magnitude and consistency of the associations, our findings do not establish a causal relation between participation in leisure activities and dementia, and controlled trials are therefore needed.’

‘If there is a causal role, participation in leisure activities may increase cognitive reserve, delaying the clinical or pathological onset of dementia. Alternatively, participation in cognitive activities might slow the pathological processes of disease during the preclinical phase of dementia. Our findings do not imply that subjects who were less active cognitively increased their risk of dementia.’

‘There was no association between physical activity and the risk of dementia. Exercise is said to have beneficial effects on the brain by promoting plasticity, increasing the levels of neurotrophic factors in the brain, and enhancing resistance to insults. Cognitive and physical activities overlap, and therefore it is not surprising that previous studies have disagreed on the role of physical activities. Although physical activities are clearly important in promoting overall health, their protective effect against dementia remains uncertain.’

This doesn’t mean that physical activity, and dance, is not beneficial to persons with dementia (or anything else for that matter). A 2009 study showed decreased agitation in participants with dementia who engaged in a four week Wu Tau dance therapy intervention.

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