Can Dancing Prevent Dementia?

Dance instructor Stine Moen warms up a class of senior participants with some stretching exercises. PHOTO: BESS ADLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

If you’re a fan of electronic dance music, chances are you probably also really enjoy dancing. It’s no secret that exercise, in general, can provide a platform for stress relief. However, recent studies have given reason to believe that dancing, in particular, may even prevent dementia.

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine is conducting an experiment to study the cognitive health benefits of seniors who participate in a 90-minute dance class twice a week. A separate control group participates in 90-minute treadmill walking sessions twice a week to compare results.

Results from earlier similar studies have demonstrated that exercise can create structural changes in the brain and improve areas pertaining to memory. In order to monitor cognitive processes and structural connectivity in the brain, participants receive an MRI brain scan.

The pressure to discover a treatment or cure for dementia is building as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. As seniors live longer, their chances of developing dementia heighten. Seniors over the age of 85 have a one-third risk of contracting the disease.

“Our hypothesis is that social ballroom dancing in particular will be more efficient than treadmill exercise,” said Helena Blumen. The assistant professor of neurology and medicine at Albert Einstein has a strong belief in the benefits of group dancing. “It involves not only physical activity but also social and cognitive activity.”

The study is still ongoing and there has not been enough evidence collected to safely conclude that dancing can in fact prevent dementia. But the seniors say one of their favorite aspects of the study is the socialization. “It makes you feel good,” said Nancy Johnson, 72. Whether or not dancing can help improve memory is still up for inspection. But one thing’s for certain: It sure does improve mood!