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seniors dance class

Does dance benefit the brain?

There are many health benefits for people of all ages who take part in regular dance programs and classes. For seniors, dancing improves balance and strength, however there is little knowledge around the cognitive benefits. So, researchers at th GERAS Centre for Aging Research at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) are exploring whether participation in regular dance programming can positively impact cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning and learning.

The study is appropriately called “DANCE”, which is short for “Dancing for Cognition & Exercise”. DANCE is led by Dr. Alexandra Papaiaonnou, geriatrician and executive director at the GERAS Centre, and Dr. Courtney Kennedy, assistant professor and associate scientific director at the GERAS Centre. Participants are 60 years of age or older. Working with the YMCA of Hamilton, the program includes two one-hour dance classes a week for six months.

“Ultimately the goal of DANCE is to keep older adults healthy and active as long as possible.”

“It’s a great way to build bridges between GERAS and the YMCA of Hamilton, as well as the Centre of Healthy Aging at St. Peter’s Hospital, as we all share the same vision of finding effective and enjoyable ways to improve the health of older adults,” says Dr. Patricia Hewston, an occupational therapist and GERAS post-doctoral fellow, and DANCE study co-investigator. “Ultimately the goal of DANCE is to keep older adults healthy and active as long as possible.”

There are many studies linking mobility and cognition, but few that include both in the same study. Since DANCE incorporates both mobility and cognition together, it may result in greater benefits than standard physical activity alone.

If the study proves to be effective, HHS researchers will look to expand the program with the future goal of implementing it for seniors across Canada. DANCE is currently funded by a grant through McMaster University’s Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative.

Regardless of the results, it’s a great opportunity for seniors to have fun, be active and meet new people.