Health & Wellness Resources


I Hope You Dance

How dancing improves brain health even for those with Alzheimer’s or related dementias


When you think of dance, what comes to mind?  Do you think of the foxtrot, waltz, tango or salsa?  Maybe you think of Zumba or Jazzercise. Or maybe you think of the weekly program, Dancing with the Stars.

But did you know dance is a great brain health strategy? In fact, a study looking at better memory over the course of fourteen years found dance was a lifestyle factor associated with better memory.1 The results of this study show the importance of dance in vascular health as well as cognitive function. When eleven different types of physical activities were assessed, only dancing actually showed a lowering effect on dementia risk.2

Dance combines physical, cognitive and social engagement which improves each factor. Physically, dance has shown improvement in balance and functional capacity. Socially, dance has been shown to enhance quality of life.3 Improved balance can mean less risk of falling.

Dance even works for those living with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia. Salsa dance therapy had a positive effect on balance, gait, and fall risk in sedentary patients with Alzheimer’s. Six months post-study, no falls had been reported.4

Balance and locomotion demonstrated positive effects for persons living with Parkinson’s dementia as well. A study looking at Argentinian tango and American ballroom found the tango and the waltz/foxtrot groups had improved walk distance and backward stride.  The tango group actually improved as much or more than the waltz/foxtrot group.5

If you are a dedicated Dancing with the Stars fan, you will be pleased to know observing dance has been shown to enhance well-being and focus. A study with participants living with Alzheimer’s showed improved well-being6. Similarly, a study with participants living with Parkinson’s shown watching dance improved eye focus.7

As important as the cognitive and physical benefits of dance are the psychosocial benefits. A study of dancing in care homes showed a decrease in negative behaviors, and an increase in social interaction and enjoyment for both residents and care staff.8

Research on dance has a range of outcome with some variability due to study structure. With music being a key component of dancing, it is difficult to separate the effect of music on the outcomes.  The reduction in stress, the increase in serotonin and the improvement of quality of life factors all work together to show dance as a hopeful component of a healthy brain and a positive lifestyle factor. 



By-line:  Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s.  Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia.  Cate is now personally caring for her spouse who has an FTD diagnosis.


1Klaming, R., Annese, J., Veltman, D. J., & Comus, H. C. (2016).  Episodic memory function is affected by lifestyle factors: a 14-year follow-up study in an elderly population, Neuropsychological Development & Cognition B, Aging Neuropsychology and Cognition, 2:1-15. 

2Verghese, J., Lipton, R. B., Katz, M.J., et al. (2003). Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly, New England Journal of Medicine, 348: 2508-2551.

3Shanahan, J., Coman, L., Ryan, F., Saunders, J., et al., (2016). To dance or not to dance? A comparison of balance, physical fitness and quality of life in older Irish set dancers and age-matched controls, Public Health, 141: 56-62.

4Abreu, M., & Hartley, G. (2013).  The effects of Salsa dance on balance, gait and fall risk in a sedentary patient with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple comorbidities, and recurrent falls, Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, 36(2): 100-108.

5Hackney, M.E., & Earhart, G.M. (2009).  Effects of dance on movement control in Parkinson’s disease: a comparison of Argentine tango and American ballroom, Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine, 41(6): 475-481.

6Guzman, A., Freeston, M., Rochester, L., Hughes, J.C., & James, I. A. (2016). Psychomotor dance therapy intervention (DANCIN) for people with dementia in care homes: a multiple-baseline single-case study, International Psychogeriatrics, 28(10): 1695-1715.

7Cameron, I. G., Brien, D.C., Links, K., Robichaud, S. et al. (2013).  Changes to saccade behaviors in Parkinson’s disease following dancing and observation of dancing, Frontiers of Neurology, 11: 4-22.

7Guzman-Garcia, A., Hughes, J.C., James, I.A., & Rochester, L. (2013) Dancing as a psychosocial intervention in care homes: a systematic review of the literature, International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 28(9): 914-924.