Dance may be the secret to getting older patients back on their feet faster, and better than ever while recovering from cancer.
After battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, Tim Hickey could barely walk.
He said, "The only thing I could feel in my feet was the balls. I couldn't feel the toes, couldn't feel the heels."
That's not uncommon.
The type of chemotherapy Tim had can damage nerves in his legs and feet
Lise Worthen-Chaudhari from Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center said, "When you lose sensation or activity in those nerves, it can affect the feedback that your system gets."
So you lose your balance.
As a pre-med student at Ohio State University, Mimi Lamantia saw how patients struggled.
As a dance major, she found a way to help - by teaching them tango.
"It's so much more than just being in a doctor's office doing balance exercises," said Lamantia.
Just 5 weeks of Argentine tango reduced their wobbling by more than 50-percent - much faster than with conventional physical therapy.
Hickey said, "The heels just came like a snap. All of a sudden it's, 'oh, wow, I can feel my heels.' It's like, 'oh, wow.' The improvement was remarkable. And I don't think we would have improved nearly that quickly without it."
The tango also increased muscle strength and stamina.
Better balance and strength can keep older patients from falls which could put them back in the hospital.
Patients often have trouble staying committed to physical therapy, because it feels like work.
Dance made therapy fun.
Lamantia said, "I was able to see the improvement in these individuals, not only in the way they held themselves, but in their confidence when they walked into class. They were steadier. They were more at ease."
Data from the project was presented this week at a medical meeting in Chicago.
It's the first known study of dance for improving balance - but it probably won't be the last.
For more programs for seniors, please visit our Art of Aging section.
Art of Aging: Dancing helps cancer patients
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