Set dancing benefits for Parkinson's


IRISH SET dancing has emerged as an effective rehabilitative source for Parkinson’s patients, international research to be published at an upcoming conference attended by up to 1,000 patients will show.

The research by Dr Daniele Volpe, medical director at the St John of God Hospital Parkinson’s Centre in Venice, will reveal that regular participation in Irish set dancing classes can improve mobility and balance, reduce the number of falls, and, generally, enhance quality of life.

Dr Volpe will be one of a number of keynote speakers at the National Patients’ Conference, which takes place this Sunday, June 17th, at the National Convention Centre.

The National Patients’ Conference will open the Movement Disorder Society’s 16th international congress in Dublin, which will be attended by 5,000 delegates, including some of the world’s leading movement disorder experts, a number of whom will speak at the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland event.

The Venice-based doctor undertook the research in association with the department of neurology at Belluno Hospital, Belluno, in Italy, in collaboration with leading Irish expert on Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders Prof Timothy Lynch, of the Neurological Institute at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin.

Dr Volpe, who plays Irish music, conducted the research after watching a Parkinson’s patient dance a set “with remarkable balance and fluidity” during a session he was playing in at a Co Clare pub.

On his return to Italy, Dr Volpe found that Venice had its own set dance group, the Black Sheep Irish Set Dance Association, and he subsequently engaged the group to run a six-month programme of classes for a cohort of 24 Parkinson’s patients to determine the rehabilitative effects of the dance on their condition.

The positive findings of the research will be detailed by Dr Volpe at Sunday’s conference.

“I am a huge fan of Irish music, song and dance but I couldn’t but notice the excellent balance of this Parkinson’s patient when I saw him dance in that set in Co Clare.

“There was so little impairment to his gait that I felt there must be something in the fact that he set danced regularly, so I decided to start a research project on the value of Irish set dance in rehabilitation of Parkinson’s disease. The results so far have been striking,” he explained. The research followed similar evidence showing that dance, specifically tango, may be an effective strategy for improving mobility in elderly people.

“The aim of the study was to verify if Irish set dance could be effective on mobility, balance and quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr Volpe.

“We recruited 24 subjects with PD and randomly assigned them between an Irish set dance group and a conventional physiotherapy group, with the subjects evaluated three weeks before and three weeks after the interventions.”

The research suggests a reduced number of falls by patients who undertook the research.

No significant improvements in the same measurements were registered in the conventional physiotherapy group. Commenting on the results, Parkinson’s Association of Ireland chairman Pat O’Rourke said: “We are very excited about this research as it would appear that, under our noses, a dance that is inherent in Irish culture may, in fact, be able to help Parkinson’s patients.

“We are making our branches aware of this research and already a number of members are taking up classes.”

A number of set dance classes for Parkinson’s patients will begin here over the coming months in response to the study.

One such class took to the boards for the first time this week in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, under the auspices of the Tipperary Branch of the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland and with the support of the Nenagh Club Rince group.