Poster Highlight: Dance for Parkinson's Disease

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Dance for Parkinson’s Disease


During a Gairdner award lecture by Dr. Eric Kandel at the Toronto Reference Library, Kandel prescribed 2 miles of walking a day for protecting against age-related memory declines. Kandel, Nobel prize laureate and expert on the neurobiological basis of memory, described how his research demonstrates that osteocalcin mediates long-term memory formation. Osteocalcin is a hormone released from bones particularly during weight-bearing exercises such as walking.

Fast-forward one year to SFN 2018 in San Diego: Instead of walking, “Dr. Kandel, you should try dancing!” joked Dr. Joseph DeSouza, York University researcher who examines the effects of dance on Parkinson’s Disease.

“I do love some salsa!”, laughed Dr. Eric Kandel, now 88 years old.


(Left to right: Dr. Joseph DeSouza, Dr. Torsten Wiesel, Dr. Eric Kandel, and unknown)

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which there is degeneration of dopaminergic cells in the substantia nigra which causes a host of motor symptoms such as tremors and slow, stiff movements. Dr. DeSouza’s poster presentation displays research conducted by PhD student Karolina Bearss. Their research examined the effect of dance lessons on the progression of Parkinson’s disease. They used both behavioural and neuroimaging methods which included Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale to measure the behavioural symptoms of the disease and functional neuroimaging to assess neural changes caused by training. They showed that weekly exercise classes protected against disease progression in the behavioural measure. The neuroimaging analysis is still ongoing however, the preliminary results suggest that the behavioural protection afforded by the dance lessons may be attributable to increased activation in the supplementary motor area.

Dance is a highly complex social activity which involves coordination of movements to an instructor and music. This workout for the body is certainly also a workout for the brain. While enjoying San Diego, hopefully you get to experience some of the local culture, put on your own dancing shoes, and experience some of the same benefits as the patients with Parkinson’s disease.


Dana Swarbrick
See more on Twitter: @DanaSwarbrick