[WATCH] How one dancer is helping Parkinson's sufferers cope with their pain

Research on therapeutic dancing for Parkinson’s disease is relatively new, but has been proven to have a positive effect on mobility and quality of life for sufferers

 Step Up For Parkinson’s coordinator Nathalie Muschamp (left) with Roehampton University principal lecturer Sara Houston, who says dance therapy give sufferers of Parkinson’s disease relief as well as a social network
Step Up For Parkinson’s coordinator Nathalie Muschamp (left) with Roehampton University principal lecturer Sara Houston, who says dance therapy give sufferers of Parkinson’s disease relief as well as a social network
Step up for Parkinson's

Dancing can help Parkinson’s disease sufferers to balance better and walk better, as it helps patients consciously remember how to move a certain way, lecturer and researcher, Sara Houston contends.

“The disease bars patients from accessing how to do certain things… you’ve still got the capacity, but you can’t access it. So, actually, it’s really important that you have the tools available and you can consciously do this,” Houston, a principal lecturer at Roehampton University, said.

She is now involved in ground-breaking research into dance for Parkinson’s, which therapy she says can decrease symptoms whilst dancing. “This gives people relief and makes them feel like they can forget about Parkinson’s for a bit, which is very important if you’re taking about thirteen different medications per day.”

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, of which symptoms develop slowly over the years. Sufferers tend to experience tremors, slowness of movement, and limb rigidity among other issues. The disease is estimated to impact around 2,800 people in Malta, 1,400 who are diagnosed with the disease, and 1,400 who are their carers.

Dance therapy might provide hope for many of these people, as Houston explained that her five-year research into the topic revealed that dancing could change the lives of sufferers and their carers.

Research on therapeutic dancing for Parkinson’s disease is relatively new, but has been proven to have a positive effect on mobility and quality of life for sufferers.

The social network that a dance therapy group provides is also extremely important for a disease which often isolates people, Houston said. “Being in a social network where people understand you, is really important. For some people, it changes their lives. It’s a different approach to moving your body and changes to a positive feeling about life, friends, and family which is so important for mental wellbeing.”

A mini-documentary, which came about through a collaboration between voluntary organisation Step Up for Parkinson’s, THINK magazine and the University of Malta, provided a glimpse into the lives and struggles of patients and their carers, their experience with the disease, and how dance therapy has helped to improve their lives.

Apart from the physical improvements reported by the patients, the dance classes also provide a sense of community and allow patients to make friends who are going through similar experiences.

“Everyone’s in the same boat here… we are like a big family,” one couple interviewed in the documentary said. “Even if you’re worried about something, at least you get to forget about your troubles for an hour and a half here…” another participant said.

Indeed, it has been proven through case studies that dance therapy helps people with Parkinson’s, Step Up for Parkinson’s founder Natalie Muschamp told this newspaper.

Step Up for Parkinson’s is a voluntary organisation which gives free specialised dance classes for people with Parkinson’s and their caregiver. “These classes help the motor functions, the balance, and the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s,” Muschamp said. “It’s been proven that it really helps within eight weeks if you come twice weekly – which we offer.”

The organisation hosts dance therapy classes for Parkinson’s sufferers in four locations around the island, for free.

“A lot of time people with Parkinson’s disease and also the caregivers suffer from isolation and depression, and coming together twice weekly and having fun and being creative and artistic enhances the feeling of community, the sense of belonging, self-confidence, and self-esteem,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp recounted an instance in which one of the participants benefited from the classes so much that their neurologist informed them that they did not need to double their dose, as would have been expected. “They were told to keep on dancing. So, we’ve had good feedback also from doctors.”

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