New research is offering hope to at least 6 million people across the globe living with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder caused by a lack of dopamine, which is needed to help nerves communicate. There is no cure, but a specific course of music and movement can help slow progression of the disease.
Up until his late 50s, Manny Torrijos wasn’t much of a dancer. But in the 13 years since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, dance has become part of his identity. He can be found three times a week at a program called Dance for Parkinson’s Disease.
“It’s not just a dance,” Torrijos told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. “It’s spiritual.”
The neurological disease can cause tremors, trouble walking and talking and, sometimes, cognitive loss. The dance classes have been just the boost that Torrijos has needed.
More than 10,000 people participate in the classes across 26 countries. The movements are designed to stimulate physical and cognitive ability.
“We do try to bring in really tangible, real life activities and gestures, so that when people leave the studio, they have a deeper understanding of how they can function in the world,” said David Leventhal, who has been teaching the class at the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn for 20 years. “One of our participants said, ‘Music is like a red carpet that rolls out in front of me and allows me to move in ways I can’t otherwise move.'”
Leventhal said he has seen firsthand how the program helps people with Parkinson’s, and the science backs that up.
Karolina Bearss and her colleagues at Toronto’s York University studied the effect of the dance program on people with Parkinson’s for three years.
“We saw that these motor symptoms remained stable over time and that they weren’t essentially worsening, as we can see in normal people with Parkinson’s disease who don’t participate in dance classes,” Bearss said.