News Release: Research

Jun. 17,  2010

Seniors Dance to Better Mobility and Quality of Life in Wesley Woods and VA Tango Study

Can dancing the tango actually improve mobility, balance and overall wellness in senior patients suffering from limited or declining eyesight? If the example of more than 20 participants ranging in ages from 60 to 95 dancing to a spicy Latin beat one recent morning is any indication, the answer may soon be a resounding "Si."

A study, led by Atlanta Veterans Affairs researcher Madeleine Hackney, PhD, who also happens to have extensive professional experience in ballroom dance, jazz, theater dance and ballet, seeks to determine if seniors involved in group-based partner tango dance can improve in functional mobility, balance and quality of life.

Effects of the dance classes, which are being held at Wesley Woods Towers of the Wesley Woods Health Center of Emory University, are being evaluated in each participant to assess if there are benefits such as improved mobility, balance, endurance and quality of life.

Upon completion of the dance program, specific tests that measure these aspects of physical and emotional well being will again be administered and may serve as quantitative evidence of the intervention's efficacy, according to Hackney.

Ed Sporleder, a 77-year-old participant and Korean War veteran, finds it "marvelous" to see some who joined the program already showing improvement and having fun together in the process.

"Some people who were having a tough time walking are now able to walk with coordination and larger steps to propel themselves forward," says Sporleder. "The Emory volunteers are marvelous, and everyone is having a wonderful time."

Barney Schoenberg, a 92-year-old participant and World War II veteran, and his wife, Jean, both agree with their friend, Ed. Both Barney and Jean have made the study a time to improve their health and make new friends.

"Madeleine is terrific and motivating," says Schoenberg. "We enjoy the exercise of the program and the people we have been able to meet. It's a nice way to spend part of the day, and it is definitely helping us both."

Hackney says, "Using a ‘before-after' cohort study of elderly patients that were invited into 20 tango dance classes over ten consecutive weeks, we hope to show patients' improved results on standardized assessments, of walking and balance completed during the pre-test. A few weeks into the class and study, not only are we already seeing great results, but the participants are enjoying themselves a great deal by interacting together."

How does tango help elderly patients - especially those with low vision and impaired coordination and mobility?

"Tango is much like walking, with more calculated, precise and intentional steps," says Hackney. "There is evidence that it may help frail, older individuals with sensor motor impairments, in terms of balance, gait and coordination. Tango also incorporates the healthy and safe use of motor skills that may be impaired by low vision and other health challenges, such as Parkinson's disease.

"And," notes Hackney, "tango has simpler basic step elements and less restricted movement patterns than dances like the waltz and foxtrot. Tango dancers must plan their movements ahead of time but because of tango's great flexibility, dancers can expand their motor repertoire through movement improvisation.

"I enjoy providing a means for our seniors to rehearse basic walking movements within the safety afforded by partners," she says. "Based on what I have already witnessed, I imagine we will see improvements in all of the hypothesized areas of physical, cognitive and emotional well-being."

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