Dr. Madeleine Hackney (Emory Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics), a research health scientist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center (VAMC) and a former professional dancer who once performed with the Radio City Rockettes, has been giving her patients dance lessons for more than a decade. Most recently, Hackney taught an adapted form of the Argentine tango to help improve mobility and balance for patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
20 participants, many of them veterans, met at the Atlanta VAMC for the classes, which called for 1.5 hours of dancing per day, five days a week, over a three-week period, for a total of 22.5 hours of dance time.
The classes led to a study, published in July 2017 in the Journal of Neurophysiology, that examined changes in muscle coordination linked to improved motor performance in people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s. The researchers show that the classes triggered improvements in neuromuscular control in the participants’ abilities to walk and gain balance. They also find similarities between the motor skills in healthy people and the gains in muscle coordination that stem from the motor skills reacquired through the tango classes.
“Tango is multimodal and involves spatial awareness, motor control, balance, memory, and coordination to music and with a partner,” says Hackney. “Perhaps by working on the novel steps with a partner, people with PD were able to challenge themselves positively, leading to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.”
- Emory Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics
- Emory University Department of Medicine
- Dr. Hackney’s faculty bio
- VIDEO: Emory Center for Health in Aging
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