Sunday, August 08, 2010

Dance may prevent cognitive decline in the elderly

An interesting bit of science this week was a study by Kattenstroth et
al in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, which was entitled "Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with
multi-year dancing activities"
. Although this study has many problems,
I thought it was still interesting. They compared performance of
elderly with a regular involvement in ballroom dancing (average dance
experience was 16 years) with a control group in a bunch of cognitive
and sensorimotor tests. Not surprisingly, they found that the dancing
elderly did better on the motor tests. They also found that they were
better on Raven's progressive matrices, a standard test of executive
function and cognitive control. I would be quite curious to know
whether those elderly were also better on tests of memory for
sequences, because remembering sequences is what you do a lot in
dancing (although I am not sure to what extent it is required in
ballroom dancing, now I come to think of it). A major problem with
their study was that there is a good chance that we're looking at
selection effects here: the elderly are dancing exactly because they
are still in good physical and mental shape. It would be interesting
to compare this group to a group of elderly who recently had to quit
dancing because of physical problems. Maybe the cognitive effects
could still be seen in such a group. Nevertheless, I think it is
probably always good to keep dancing into old age to stay happy,
healthy and alert.