Dancing protective against AD, dementia?

Audrey Abella
17 Aug 2022
Dancing protective against AD, dementia?

Studies presented at AAIC 2022 show that dancing could be a protective factor against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia in older adults.


In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 studies (n=943; average age 72 years), researchers sought to evaluate the effect of dance-movement interventions (DMIs) on the psychological health of non-demented older adults. Half of the cohort performed DMIs (eg, creative dance, standard/ballroom dance, tai chi with music) while the other half were only instructed to do passive movements. [AAIC 2022, abstract 62228]


After an average duration of 16 weeks, DMI was found to be associated with an increase in general psychological health compared with passive movements (effect size [ES], 0.31; p=0.01).


Even when psychological health clusters* were separated, there were similar trends in favour of DMI (ES, 0.26; p=0.12 [positive cluster] and ES, 0.30; p=0.08 [negative cluster]).


DMI also had a small positive effect on general cognition (ES, 0.48; p=0.04).


“[Our findings suggest that] in older adults, DMIs are associated with increased psychological health, while likewise improving cognitive health,” said Odile Podolski from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Dresden, Germany. “[Hence,] dance-based activities may serve as a holistic tool and protective lifestyle factor in the process of healthy ageing.”


High-quality intervention studies are warranted to reinforce existing evidence on psychological constructs, as well as identify mechanisms of action and underlying neurophysiological correlates, added Podolski.


Social dancing

In another study, Associate Professor Helena Blumen from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, US, and colleagues compared the relative efficacy of social ballroom dancing against treadmill walking for improving executive function** and functional neuroplasticity in 25 older adults at increased risk for AD and related dementias (mean age 76.5 years, 66 percent female). [AAIC 2022, abstract 63172]


“[We looked into this given] preliminary evidence showing that social dancing may generate greater benefits than treadmill-walking on Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) performance and reduce hippocampal atrophy,” said Blumen.


Participants were instructed to perform their respective activities 90 minutes twice weekly for 6 months. Sixteen participants completed the intervention before study termination due to COVID-19 (eight in each arm).


There were significant pre-post changes in composite executive functions with both social dancing and treadmill walking, but the between-group difference was not significant (1.16 vs 0.99; p=0.77). “They were equally efficacious,” said Blumen.


There were also no significant between-group differences in terms of functional activation patterns during DSST, Flanker, and Walking-While-Talking tasks, she added.


In terms of select measures of executive function however, pre-post change in DSST performance was greater in the social-dancing than the treadmill-walking arm (p=0.02). Also, the reduction in hippocampal volume (hippocampal atrophy) was lesser in the former vs the latter arm (0.07 percent vs 9.51 percent; p=0.01).


“Identifying safe and efficacious interventions to prevent and/or delay the onset of AD and related dementias is important, as there is no cure, and the number of dementia cases keep rising,” said Blumen.


Traditional aerobic exercises such as treadmill walking and running has shown modest benefits on cognition, particularly on executive function, but long-term adherence is particularly low among older adults.


“These preliminary findings are encouraging and partly support our hypothesis that social dancing may be more beneficial than traditional aerobic activities,” she continued, calling for future large-scale trials to ascertain the findings.


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