NIH grant will fund next steps of Wake Forest University School of Medicine research on dance and brain health

NIH grant will fund next steps of Wake Forest University School of Medicine research on dance and brain health

The National Institutes of Health will provide $3 million to Wake Forest University School of Medicine over a five-year period. This money is intended to support researchers in their efforts to continue the research they have been doing for the past decade, which has shown that dance can improve cognitive health.

The grant will fund a new study, IGROOVE, that will allow researchers to determine which types of dances, how often dance classes are held, and what aspects -- such as music, social interaction and cognitive challenge -- of the class affect brain health, fitness and memory.

Christina E. Hugenschmidt will co-lead the research, along with Christina T. Soriano. She is a dance professor at Wake Forest University and Vice Provost of Arts and Interdisciplinary Initiatives.

The research methods and techniques used in this study are highly innovative. The team will test the outcomes of different "doses" of dance. Participants will be required to attend dance classes for one, two, or three days per week over a six-month period. They can either choose to learn four different types of dances or they can be randomly assigned to a music appreciation control group.

The research on the effects of physical activity on older adults, such as treadmill walking and fitness classes, has historically focused on activities that can be done in a gym. Cardiorespiratory fitness is important for brain health as we age, but it's not the only factor.

Dance increases heart rate and promotes social interaction. Cognitively challenging are formal dances like the tango and classical dance.

Soriano stated that he was 'thrilled' to hear the NIH continue to support Wake Forest research into dance and brain health. Dance is fun and social, so older adults are more likely to continue dancing.

Research on Dance and Dementia

Hugenschmidt, Soriano and others have worked together on previous studies that examined the effects of improvisational dancing on the brain. In their previous research, dance was used to measure the impact of social engagement and physical activity on older adults with early stage dementia.

These preliminary results suggest that improvisational dancing can improve secondary dementia symptoms that impact quality of life, including mood changes, depression, gait and balance issues, and mood and apathy.

Hugenschmidt stated that despite all the positive findings regarding dance, there is a lack of basic information available on other forms of physical activity. How often should you dance in order to improve your brain function and fitness? What is it about dance that affects improvement -- fitness, music, social connection or cognitive challenges? This new study will answer these questions.

Want to groove? Call 336-713-6683, or send an email to EMAIL if you are 65 years old and interested in participating in the IGROOVE Study.

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, a leading academic learning health system in Winston-Salem (North Carolina), is part of Advocate Health. Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is an integrated clinical system that has locations all over the region. It also includes the academic core of Advocate Health, which is a leader in experiential learning and pioneering research.