Professor Heather Trommer-Beardslee, a faculty member in the Department of Theater and Dance, and Dr. Jamie Haines, a Physical Therapy professor, have worked with a team of Physical Therapy doctoral students and students in the Dance Studies major or minor to create a program for bringing dance lessons to people with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system and causes degeneration in mobility and mental capabilities. The disorder can lead to slower movements, increased fall risks, loss of fine motor skills, apathy, memory issues, and slower mental processing.
This program was created in response to the lack of exercise-based opportunities for people with Parkinson’s in rural Michigan. Isabella County specifically did not previously have any sort of program within a thirty-mile radius. This lack of programming was problematic for the treatment of people with Parkinson’s, as proper exercise can help slow, maintain, or even reverse the physical and mental declines that occur with the disorder.
Professor Trommer-Beardslee, Dr. Haines, and their students collaborated to create a class structure for these dance programs that would maximize the benefits and entertainment. Each class featured a warmup, a cardiovascular activity, a social dance, a props dance, and a cooldown. While the basic outline of the classes remained the same, the activities themselves changed, with social dances ranging from waltzes to line dancing, which ended up being a favorite of the participants, or props dances including scarves, rhythm sticks, and canes. These props help to improve different aspects of skills such as hand-eye coordination, planning movements, and shifting weight from side to side.
While these classes began at the Commission on Aging, they expanded within 6 months to the Crestwood Village Assisted Living and Memory facility. This expansion led to the modification of these dance classes to allow for wheelchair bound attendees.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Trommer-Beardslee and Dr. Haines’s classes were not available due to the immediate lockdown. However, the collaborating students created instructional videos for the classes on YouTube to send to regular class participants, and in 2021, the student leaders began running bi-weekly Zoom meetings to teach the classes. Now in 2022, classes are back in person. Going forward, Professor Trommer-Beardslee and Dr. Haines hope to continue recruiting new participants, branching out into new locations and platforms, and expanding their network of student leaders.
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Story by ORGS intern, Ellie Heron