Dancing Benefits The Aging Brain

Doctors have long recommended physical exercise to reduce or delay the onset of dementia as people age. But a new study indicates that dancing may give even greater benefits than other forms of exercise.

Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld compared the effects of different kinds of exercise on volunteers with an average age of 68. Over 18 months, participants took part in either traditional fitness training with repetitive exercises like cycling or Nordic walking, or dance lessons which featured something new each week.

The study measured changes in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is connected with learning, memory, and balance, and is affected by Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. In both groups, the hippocampus region of the brain increased. The dancers had a noticeable improvement in balance.

The dance routines varied and included jazz, square dance, line dance, and Latin. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Other studies have found similar benefits to dancing:

A study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that brain-stimulating activities such as reading, writing, and doing puzzles lowered the risk of dementia by 47 percent. This study did not find that regular bicycling, swimming, or team sports lowered the risk of dementia significantly. But ballroom dancing reduced the risk of developing dementia by 67 percent!

A study from Korea found that seniors who learned to dance the Cha Cha improved their memory and cognitive function over six months when compared to controls. A study from Canada found that seniors who danced the tango twice a week improved their cognitive scores.

The challenge of constantly learning a variety of new things may be one of the keys to the success of dance in improving mental ability. Dance requires a combination of mental and physical activity – dancers must remember the steps and executive them in rhythm. Also, dance is usually accompanied by music, and music has also been found to benefit people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music stimulates memories and positive emotions, and body response to rhythms; music can also have the effect of making people more outgoing and sociable.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, see the Alzheimer’s Section of Guide To Long Term Care.

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Calls to clear the way for research on cannabis for Alzheimer’s

According to brain experts, cannabis holds promise as a treatment for the causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s, but federal regulators are blocking the path to a cure. Recent discoveries, along with the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in some states, have brought calls for reforms in the laws that regulate cannabis research.

Researchers found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds in the cannabis plant can help the body remove amyloid beta, the toxic plaque protein linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. The protein causes inflammation and kills neuron cells, causing deterioration of memory.

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California are finding that marijuana extracts may help prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease. Cannabinoids are compounds found in marijuana, which can have medical applications. One study indicated that cannabinoids can relieve amyloid protein buildup and cell damage related to dementia using some of the brain’s own protective measures.

Unlike methods which seek to remove amyloid buildup from the outside of brain cells (such as those currently being explored by pharmaceutical companies), the method explored by Salk researchers works with the brain’s natural endocannabanoids to fight amyloid buildup inside cells, along with the resulting inflammation and cell death, at an earlier stage in the disease.

Endocannabinoids can active switches called receptors in the brain cells. Researchers found that these THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may help protect cells from dying.

Physical activity increases the production of endocannabinoids, which may explain why exercise can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. THC from cannabis is similar in activity to endocannabinoids, and can activate the same receptors.

Marijuana is legal in California, but because the Salk Institute accepts some federal funding, it must abide by federal rules that require approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for any cannabis studies. The DEA classifies marijuana as a schedule I drug, alongside heroin and other dangerous drugs, impeding research that may help treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. The bureaucratic approval process can slow down research by months or years. Some observers think that the pharmaceutical industry is creating regulatory obstructions for researchers because cannabis is a natural product and cannot be patented.

Health researchers estimate that one in three seniors will die with dementia. Someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds. In addition to the loss of longevity and quality of life, the financial costs of Alzheimer’s and dementia are significant.

A 2015 study by the National Institutes of Health found that the price of late stage dementia exceeds that of any other disease; a recent estimate of cost was $236 billion for 2016, or around $287,000 annually per person.

Alzheimer’s affects more than five million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, and is a leading cause of death. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. The number of people with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple during the next 50 years.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit the Guide To Long Term Care

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Sources of Help for Seniors

There are many government-supported benefits for seniors, including some programs that are not widely known. Seniors and their caregivers can find services through some helpful online resources listed below.

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice has a Home Care and Hospice Agency Locator and a Caring Store with workbooks and manuals for caregivers.

The Visiting Nurse Associations of America has a Find-a-Provider website.

The Eldercare.net website contains a searchable database of resources that are available at the state and community level. For example, there are connections for legal services, elder abuse prevention, health insurance assistance, home health care, and long term care. Users can enter their data to search for specific programs to meet their individual needs.

The National Council on Aging provides a website called BenefitsCheckUp.org on programs for the elderly, which it says can help some seniors save thousands of dollars on the basic costs of living.


The Older Americans Act of 1965 (OAA) established a national network of federal, state, and local agencies that help older adults live independently, called the National Aging Network. Anyone 60 or older is eligible for services under the OAA; those most in need get priority. The network includes 56 State Agencies on Aging, 622 Area Agencies on Aging, and more than 260 Title VI Native American aging programs. Its programs are supported by tens of thousands of service providers and volunteers. A few examples of the many programs in the network are:

EyeCare America provides access to free medical eye care and annual eye exams;

Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which provides stay-at-home alternatives to living in a nursing home;

Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP), which gives workshops that help people manage health conditions such as arthritis, asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, cancer, depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, and HIV/AIDS.


For information on Long Term Care Insurance, see the Guide To Long Term Care

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Bounce Your Way To Health

Exercise: The More We Need It,The Less We Do It

When we’re young, we need exercise to help our bodies develop correctly, and once we’re grown, we continue to need exercise to maintain our strength and health, but this doesn’t always happen.

As The American Heart Association observes: “In general, people become less physically active as they get older. Nearly 40 percent of people over the age of 55 report no leisure-time physical activity. The older people become, the more they need regular exercise. It helps prevent bone loss (reducing the risk of fractures) and reduces the risk of dozens of diseases associated with aging.”

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