Dance classes help Parkinson's sufferers

Best foot forward: Dance for Parkinson's instructors Beatriz Occhiuzzi and Natasha Cesco (right) are helping improve the lives of people with the illness, including Kevin Stirling, Helen Dewhurst and Frank Leaver. Picture: Jane Dyson
Best foot forward: Dance for Parkinson's instructors Beatriz Occhiuzzi and Natasha Cesco (right) are helping improve the lives of people with the illness, including Kevin Stirling, Helen Dewhurst and Frank Leaver. Picture: Jane Dyson

EACH week, Brian Brigham, 71, loses himself in an activity that helps him forget about the disease that has taken control of his mind and body.

Mr Brigham and his wife Dahlia, 62, run Dance for Parkinson's each Friday at Kogarah School of Arts.

The free program offers specialised dance classes accompanied by live music for people with Parkinson's and their carers.

It helps participants manage some of their symptoms and increases their confidence and well-being.

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that slowly stops the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, reducing the brain's ability to regulate the body, movement and emotions.

Dancing has helped Mr Brigham regain his confidence — and his smile.

"Sufferers tend to have a mask-like face, which can make it hard to express yourself in social situations," Mr Brigham said. "But by the end of the class, everyone is smiling; they are so much happier.

The program was developed in the US by the Mark Mossis Dance Group and Brooklyn Parkinson Group.

Volunteers from the Dance of Parkinson's Australia non-profit organisation run classes in five locations in Sydney.

"I tend to lose my tremor once I'm halfway through the class," Mr Brigham said.

"It gives me such a mental boost that you tend to forget you have Parkinson's."

Classes run 1.30pm-3.30pm and include afternoon tea and time to socialise.

"The purpose of the classes is to improve mobility and quality of life for people with Parkinson's and their carers," Mrs Brigham said.

Dance for Parkinson's instructor Beatriz Occhiuzzi said classes were uplifted for her as well.

"It's very rewarding as an instructor to see there are benefits for participants," Ms Occhiuzzi said.

"It's a way for people to connect and have companionship with people who understand what they are going through.

"There are definitely physical benefits, but there are emotional and psychological benefits too."

Brooklyn Parkinson Group figures showed the program led to better walking ability and fewer tremors.

Details: Dahlia Brigham, 0412 381 849.

Comments