Ballroom dancing helping seniors protect their brains, combat dementia

WILLOUGHBY, OH (WOIO) - Dancing certainly puts you in a good mood, but it's also giving seniors a way to reduce the risk of dementia.

November is National Alzheimer's Awareness Month. It's the most common form of dementia.

Last week, billionaire Bill Gates announced a $100 million commitment to finding better treatment options and a cure.

Researchers say frequent dancing can combat the risk of dementia. For Lloyd Bell of Moreland Hills, it's a topic that hits close to home.

"I think everybody is aware of it and the older you get the more aware of it you are," Bell said.

His aunt battled dementia in her later years.

"She lived to be 88. I was her guardian, so I was very keenly aware of it," Bell said. "You've known an individual through (the) decades and to see them diminish to that state is distressing and sad. It's very sad."

Recent studies show regular exercise can improve memory and slow down mental decline.

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine did a 20-year study of seniors. It found frequent dancing offered a 76 percent risk reduction in dementia- more than biking, reading or doing crossword puzzles.

Bell dances several days a week at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Willoughby.

"I'm doing it. I'm proof that you can do it," Bell said.

He's 76-years-old and decided about a year ago to take dance lessons after seeing people on a cruise ship salsa dancing and having a good time.

"My favorite probably is swing and rumba," Bell said. "It's an ever-growing kind of process. I mean you learn something, then you learn something more and then you learn something more. And, it seems to be no limit to the things you can learn."

Erica Kravchenko is Bell's teacher and instructor.

"He makes me smile every time he walks through that door," Kravchenko said.

She believes the research studies showing the benefits ballroom dancing has on the mind and combating dementia.

"I've watched him (Bell) be able to not only memorize those steps but then to connect the dots. So, he can transfer one step from a rumba to a cha-cha or a foxtrot to a tango, and learn easier as time goes by," Kravchenko said.

Kellie Love, general manager at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Willoughby, said it's rewarding to see tackle their dreams of learning how to dance. She said in addition to health benefits it can boost seniors' spirits.

"It also helps with just having that social comrade. You really find an environment where you can find new friends and then you go out dancing," Love said. "It helps a lot with depression. Never mind the physical activity. It gets the endorphins going. It's just all around a great sport."

Cleveland 19 reporter Damon Maloney asked Bell what he plans to do with his new-found dance skills.

"You might be on Dancing with the Stars," Maloney said.

"I don't know," Bell chuckled. "Who knows? It's like life. You don't know. You don't know what tomorrow's going to bring.

The Alzheimer's Association offers great information and resources for those interested in learning more about the Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

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