The answer to cutting fall rates among the elderly could be encouraging them to take up tango and ballroom dancing. Such pastimes help to improve balance through better ankle and core strength, with the slow and structured style of the dances being well suited to older participants.
Falls are the most prevalent cause of emergency hospital admissions for British pensioners and lead to nearly 5,000 deaths annually. Encouraging elderly people to take measures to prevent them can improve quality of life, as well as meaning they live longer.
Dr Emma Redding, a dance scientist, highlighted the benefits of taking up dancing and also why it might appeal to those of a certain age. She said that even those with dementia can find that the music they waltzed to in their youth brings back memories, while dancing can help ease the loneliness of those who have been widowed.
As people age, their muscles naturally undergo a certain amount of deterioration, which when combined with other factors, leads to an increased risk of falls. These include a loss of balance, problems with their vision and even the side effects of some commonly used medications.
The implications of a fall can be devastating for the elderly. As well as risking broken bones and other injuries, falling can lead to a reduction in cognition and ultimately, restrictions on their independence. Falls are also one of the main concerns relatives have about parents as they get older.
Speaking ahead of a talk at Cheltenham Science Festival, Dr Redding told the Daily Mail: “Dancing, you take physical risks you would not on your own. You shift your weight from side to side, from front to back, as you would not do when walking.
“This helps with ankle and core stability and makes people much more confident when moving in everyday life. The postural alignment is very important in preventing falls in older people and could help keep them safe.”
A number of studies over the years have looked at the benefits of various types of dancing for the elderly. The findings range from better balance to improved posture and being more aware of your own body, with ballroom and tango being particularly good in these areas. They also contain more contact with a partner than faster dancing styles like salsa, which gives added support.
The guideline recommendations for exercise in the elderly are 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, coupled with two sessions of strengthening exercises. Many older people are falling below this level, however, and dancing could be a good way to combine both elements. Focusing on the social side could also have benefits for mental health, making it a win-win solution.
Dr Redding added that regular dance classes give people who don’t get out much something to look forward to and an opportunity to dress up and put on make-up. Such enjoyment means they’re more likely to stick with this form of exercise as opposed to something without a social element.