Tango therapy rejuvenates Parkinson’s Disease patients

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MADISON (WKOW) — A class through the University of Wisconsin is putting a different spin on exercise treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.


“When you hear tango, you think of this exotic dance,” said Argentine tango instructor Joe Yang.

In this class, it’s less about being exotic and more about maintaining mobility. Research has proven exercise vital to staying physically balanced and active for people living with Parkinson’s Disease.

Kristen Pickett, an assistant professor of occupational therapy in UW’s kineseology department, brought the class to Madison four years ago after finding through her experience with Parkinson’s patients, they’re not always on board with exercise.

“If I say, we’ve got a study for people with Parkinson’s Disease, it’s about exercise, you lose them right there,” said Pickett.  “But if we say, we’re tango dancing or we’ll bring a bike to your house or would you like to glass blow, then all of a sudden they’re much more engaged in the idea of that rather than, I’m going to get on a treadmill for a half hour.”

Yang says one of the biggest things he’s seen tango help his Parkinson’s students with is balance.  “Just taking those nice, long steps.  Because the steps you take in tango, whether you’re going forward or backwards are a little bit bigger than the ones you normally take when you’re walking out on the street,” said Yang.  “We’ve actually had some students in the past say, I was in my kitchen, and I remembered the long steps in tango, and that helped me stay on balance and prevent falling.”

Participants can attest, the benefits of the class have gone beyond exercise.

“It helps to do it in a group setting where you feel like everyone’s afflicted with the same disease and you have a little bit of family sense there,” said Paul Verhoeven.  He’s been taking the class nearly since it started.

“These are wonderful people. I really enjoy being with them, and I think that’s very key is being involved with these kinds of activities with people and being able to share ideas and things like that,” said Kathy Nordness.

Pickett acknowledges exercise can also keep the level of medicine Parkinson’s Disease patients are using the same for a longer period of time.  She’s finding meaningful treatment is key for people currently diagnosed.

“If we’re only looking for a cure, then we’re already ignoring that entire generation of people who’ve already been diagnosed, and there’s no way a cure is going to move along fast enough to help them, so this is what we can do for them,” said Pickett.

Classes meet on a semesterly basis, twice a week on Wednesday and Friday afternoons at UW Hospital’s Science Dr. location on Madison’s west side.  Click here for more information.

Caroline Bach

Caroline Bach

Anchor, Wake Up Wisconsin Weekend

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