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Parkinson's patients deal with the disease with dance therapy

Dance therapy sessions help senior citizens in the city recover lost confidence and battle Parkinson’s symptoms to live a richer life

With the revelation that the deceased actor-comedian Robin Williams was struggling with early stages of Parkinson’s disease (PD) before he was found hanging on August 11, it is now suspected that he may have attempted suicide in depression over the diagnosis.

Hrishikesh Pawar
Hrishikesh Pawar teaches one of his students a move, while the other students partner up and follow

While some studies show that the disease can often lead to depression, a bunch of Parkinson’s patients in Pune have found the perfect way to keep the gloom away — dance.

dance therapy
The dance therapy has helped the 25 students in this class to overcome the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and live a richer life. Pics/Shashank Sane

When this reporter visited Hrishikesh Dance Company’s (HDC) studio and found Retired Major Prabhakar Apte (64) happily shaking a leg to the Bollywood number, ‘London Thumakda’, there was no way to tell that Apte too had once struggled with depression.

“After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and suffering from the disease, I had stopped going out and meeting people,” he said. Parkinson’s affects motor skills and movement, and when Apte was diagnosed 13 years ago, it was especially frustrating for him because of his active army background and lifestyle.

At the dance studio, however, Apte seemed to shrug it all off, simply focusing on the movement of his arms and legs, following the instructions of the teacher. Apte explained, “The main thing that I have achieved by learning dance is my confidence. Now I go out on my own, enjoy with my friends and feel confident.”

Pradniya Joshi (60) has been attending the dance classes since they began in 2011, which has brought a marked change in her attitude towards life post diagnosis. “I have seen major changes in Pradniya’s lifestyle since then. These classes are the only reason she did not sink into depression. Not only does she look happier, dance has also improved small muscle movements. In fact, these days, though I drop her at the class, she returns alone by bus afterwards,” said her husband Nalin.

The classes are the brainchild of the studio owner, Hrishikesh Pawar. After extensive research about the disease and the impact dance can have on the patients and their symptoms, Pawar began free-of-charge classes in the city. “I know this therapy will not cure them 100 per cent, but it will surely help them to face this problem with more confidence,” he said, adding that the therapy reduces the need for medication by at least 25 per cent.

Many from the 25 students in the class will agree, as they have noticed considerable improvement in their motor skills. Snehalata Shinde (67) said, “I was unable to write earlier, as I had tremors in my hand. But after attending this class, I can now write properly.”

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson’s disease or PD, is a progressive disorder of the nervous system. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while a tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson’s disease, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement. Dr Suyog Doshi, a neurologist at Sahyadri Hospital said, “There are four main signs that indicate Parkinson’s Disease — tremors, slowness of movements, rigidity in gait, loss of postural reflexes. Dance therapy helps these patients to recover from these symptoms.”

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