May is National Stroke Awareness month, and John wants you to know! His therapists put together a dance routine to perform with him as part of his rehabilitation. Dance therapy for stroke survivors is a great way to get the body moving and connect brain activity with physical movement.
Strokes take the lives of over 140,000 people each year and are the third leading cause of death in the US. It’s true that some strokes are preventable and risk factors can be controlled, but that’s not always the case. After suffering from a stroke, physical therapy and occupational therapy are popular rehabilitation efforts. More recently, dance therapy for stroke survivors is becoming a popular form of treatment.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is sometimes referred to as a “brain attack.” Blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, and the brain cells are not given enough oxygen and glucose needed to survive. The two types of stroke are ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.
Ischemic stroke is comparable to a heart attack, except it takes place in the blood vessels of the brain. Blood clots form in the brain, or any other part of the body and travel to the brain, and block blood flow to brain cells. Ischemic strokes are common and account for about 80% of all strokes.
When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, a hemorrhagic stroke is suffered. With the breakage of a blood vessel, blood seeps into the brain tissue and causes damage to cells. High blood pressure and brain aneurysms are common causes of a hemorrhagic stroke.
Dance Therapy for Stroke Survivors
Strokes are pretty serious, so how could something as fun as dancing help with rehabilitation? Two of the main symptoms of a stroke are weakness or numbness on one side of the body and loss of balance. Some people who have experienced a stroke also find it difficult to communicate. Dancing can be viewed as a complex activity that requires balance, coordination, and a certain level of fitness. But, not all dancing has to be advanced, and you definitely do not have to be good at it to participate. Dance therapy for stroke survivors is great for treating physical, cognitive, and emotional limitations.
The physical benefits of dance therapy are similar to those of traditional exercise. Improved balance, coordination, muscle tone, and overall health are a few reasons to try dance therapy. Sessions of dance therapy for stroke survivors can focus on different goals or areas of the body. For example, a session that focuses on strength, coordination, and balance can encourage gross motor skill development. Ballet can also be used to increase muscle growth, encourage good posture, and improve balance. Even if the movement is limited in a part of the body, the parts that are comfortable can still be used. Tight joints can be loosened and overall mobility can be improved.
Dance therapy for stroke survivors can greatly improve thinking skills, motivation, and memory. Music can stimulate the brain’s reward centers, and dance can activate the sensory and motor circuits. The combination of music and dancing can help strengthen connections in the brain and improve cognitive skills.
Dance therapy also increases communication skills. Strokes attack the brain and can affect the facial area including the mouth. So, survivors might have trouble putting thoughts together and verbally communicating them. Dancing has been used in history as a means of expressing emotions and creating social bonds. So, for patients who may be having trouble with traditional communication, dancing can be their outlet and way of connecting with others.
Another reason to try dance therapy for stroke survivors are the emotional benefits. Individuals are able to safely explore emotions that come with surviving a stroke, such as anger, frustration, and depression. Many of these emotions stem from the loss of physical and cognitive abilities.
In general, exercise is great for relieving stress. Dancing is no exception, as movement is often related to thoughts and feelings. Music and dancing can change emotions and attitudes, causing a shift in the person’s mood. Certain types of dance and genres of music can bring different emotions to different people depending on the feelings they are experiencing.
Dance can also greatly improve self-esteem and confidence. Participants become a part of something that they enjoy and work toward an end goal. Whether the goal is related to learning a certain routine/movement or rehabilitation, there is something to work for. When someone completes a routine or sees progress in their rehabilitation, it’s encouraging and reassuring.