Parkinson's patients dance for therapy

BY DORA GROTE | MARCH 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Bob McCown has Parkinson's disease. But it didn't keep him from twisting and turning to Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up " last week. And he wasn't alone.


The 72-year-old is a member of a local dance class led by Leslie Nolte of Nolte Academy of Dance, 1801 Second St., Coralville, that works with patients such as McCown to help them increase their mobility.

"I think it's pretty huge that you can surprise yourself with what you can do," Nolte said during a class. "Parkinson's says you can't, but in here, we kind of break rules. Music and movement keep you young."

Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressing neurological disease resulting in the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.

McCown, who was first diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1992, said Tuesdays — the day of the class — have become his favorite day of the week.

In November 2011, the Eastern Iowa Parkinson's support group, led by Judi Gust, joined with Nolte to offer the dance class for patients diagnosed with Parkinson's. Recent research from the American Society of Neurorehabilitation detected a link between dancing and improving motor skills in patients diagnosed with Parkinson's.

Patients diagnosed with Parkinson's often experience loss of balance and coordination and slowed movement as the disease progresses.

Gust, 73, who is married to McCown's, said roughly seven people attend the group each week.

"It's the combination of people and music," she said. "It encourages Parkinson's patients to keep moving even though they can feel tired and stiff. It really inspires my husband, and I think it's really helped him."

For 45 minutes every Tuesday, the group of roughly seven gathers to twirl scarves, balance beanbags, wiggle their feet, and stretch.

Nolte said she changes the class' dances and styles every week to keep it interesting for the participants.

"I continue to find different ways to work the muscle groups without them knowing it," Nolte said. "I got to know everyone first and their limits. We work everyone out without exceeding anyone's limits."

Though aerobic exercise and dance may be helpful for patients, there is no specific scientific evidence to prove that it actually combats the disease, said Ergun Uc, a University of Iowa associate professor of neurology.

"Dance can have an effect on the disease course itself, but it's different than benefits in terms of improving the systems," Uc said. "It does not necessarily mean it is slowing the progression of the disease."

Scientists around the world are conducting research regarding the effects of dance on physical ailments.

"Dance has many different levels where it helps patients in different ways," Uc said. "Dance or aerobic exercise are all promising that they can slow the progression and perhaps other diseases as Alzheimer's."

Participant Pat Fountain, 65, said the class has kept her Parkinson's-diagnosed husband Ralph, 66, mobile.

"It helps him with stiffness and rigidity," she said. "It's a fun activity with a group of people that helps you and makes you feel great."

And the group keeps her motivated, too.

"It's better than trying to do it at home," she said. "The group has the same needs, and everyone here is trying to do it for the same purpose."

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