Parkinson’s disease (PD) is associated with a loss of internal cueing systems, affecting rhythmic motor tasks such as walking and speech production. Music and dance encourage spontaneous rhythmic coupling between sensory and motor systems; this has inspired the development of dance programs for PD. Here we assessed the therapeutic outcome and some underlying cognitive mechanisms of dance classes for PD, as measured by neuropsychological assessments of disease severity as well as quantitative assessments of rhythmic ability and sensorimotor experience. We assessed prior music and dance experience, beat perception (Beat Alignment Test), sensorimotor coupling (tapping to high- and low-groove songs), and disease severity (Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale in PD individuals) before and after four months of weekly dance classes. PD individuals performed better on UPDRS after four months of weekly dance classes, suggesting efficacy of dance intervention. Greater post-intervention improvements in UPDRS were associated with the presence of prior dance experience and with more accurate sensorimotor coupling. Prior dance experience was additionally associated with enhanced sensorimotor coupling during tapping to both high-groove and low-groove songs. These results show that dance classes for PD improve both qualitative and quantitative assessments of disease symptoms. The association between these improvements and dance experience suggests that rhythmic motor training, a mechanism underlying dance training, impacts improvements in parkinsonian symptoms following a dance intervention.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience