N.C. – July 13, 2017– Depending on what generation you belong to,
the term “improvisational dance” may conjure up images of beatniks grooving to
the beat of bongos in a darkened coffeehouse or the black-clad Dieter gyrating
to techno pop in a Sprockets sketch on “Saturday Night Live”.
But today, scientists are testing whether people with
dementia can be helped by using improvisational dance – a classic type of dance
that involves creating and executing movements spontaneously rather than with
Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the National
Institutes of Health, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and
Wake Forest University will team up to conduct a three-year clinical trial to
determine if this type of movement can improve gait and balance problems
associated with cognitive impairment and memory loss, as well as improve
quality of life issues, such as apathy and depression.
The study is led by Christina E. Hugenschmidt, Ph.D.,
assistant professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest
Baptist, and Christina T. Soriano, M.F.A., associate professor of dance at Wake
“Cognitive impairment and memory loss are among the main
symptoms that bring older adults into the doctor’s office, but there are a lot
of secondary symptoms that go along with them that really affect quality of
life not only for the person with dementia, but also for their caregiver,”
“In addition, changes in gait and balance can result in
falls, which is one of main reasons people with cognitive impairment are admitted
to the hospital.”
The study is based on findings from an earlier pilot
study funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield through a wellness initiative at Wake
Forest Baptist. In that small study, Soriano and Hugenschmidt examined how
improvisational movement could improve gait, balance and quality of life in
people with early-stage memory loss, and how those improvements correlated with
changes in associated brain networks.
“Our research has indicated that improvisational movement
encourages creative approaches to problem solving and improved balance, mobility
and overall physical confidence,” Soriano said.
In this current study, each participant will be enrolled
in a 12-week program and randomly assigned to one of four groups: dance with
social engagement, dance only, social engagement or no contact. The researchers
hope to learn how dance affects different body systems, and to determine whether
the movement aspect or the social engagement aspect – or both – affect quality
of life in people with dementia.
“This isn’t partner dancing so it is not dependent on
remembering steps,” Hugenschmidt said. “Caregivers also will be involved, but
mostly as a way to interact with each other in a fun way rather than providing
For information on how to join the study, contact Phyllis
Babcock at 336-713-8542.