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Dance therapy study shows benefit for elderly

  • Story and photos by Linda Owen Pedroley
  • Published: Aug. 18, 2010
Elderly dancers at TigerPlace

Pete Petrus tips his hat to Jean Krampe during a dance session at TigerPlace. Participants perform some of the dance moves while seated.

Jean Krampe’s prescription to prevent falls — a warm-up before a bout of “Fever,” followed by a trip to “Kansas City” and a cool-down on a “Sentimental Journey” — is generating interest nationally and internationally in the use of therapeutic movement with popular music for everyone from frail seniors to cancer survivors.

Krampe, PhD ’10, researched for her dissertation project the use of dance therapy to improve the gait and balance of elderly residents. Her pilot study found that participants felt improvement in gait and balance after two months of dance sessions; her dissertation study supports the findings from the pilot study. As word of the research project spreads, she has received numerous calls to present her work to interested groups.

“My studies were small, so I may not have the best statistical significance from my second study yet, but the people love it,” Krampe said. “I now see my role changing from a researcher to a leader who can connect interested groups with this therapy.”

For her research project, Krampe used The Lebed Method™ (TLM), which includes a combination of low-impact dance steps choreographed to music. She led a series of 45-minute dance sessions at TigerPlace, an independent-living community developed by MU nursing researchers, and Americare, a long-term care company, to help seniors age in place. The study included 18 classes offered throughout a two-month period. Participants reported that they enjoyed the sessions and wanted to continue the program. In 2008, Krampe and MU researchers conducted a six-week pilot study with the Alexian Brothers PACE Program (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) in St. Louis. More than half of the eleven participants self-reported improvements in gait and balance.

“Creative interventions such as dance-based therapy have the potential to significantly reduce falls in older persons. Among seniors that stand up and move during sessions, we found that dance therapy can increase their walking speed and balance, which are two major risk factors for falling,” said Krampe. “Nursing and eldercare professionals can help move these programs into practice to reduce the detrimental burden caused by falls. We found that many seniors are eager to participate and continue to come back after attending sessions because they really enjoy it.”

TLM, also called Healthy-Steps, was created by Sherry Lebed Davis and her two brothers, who sought to improve range of motion and boost the spirits of their mother who was recovering from breast cancer. After seeing successful results, they shared the program with hospitals. Today Healthy-Steps is used by many cancer patients and in nursing homes worldwide.

Currently one of only three certified TLM dance instructors in Missouri, Krampe has inspired others to become certified so they can lead classes for their patients. She traveled to Seattle in 2009 to become certified in TLM before she began her dissertation project.

“I knew that I would be using TLM for my research,” said Krampe. “I really wanted to get into the theory, the method and understand the movements and how they are physically created for the outcome that we are looking for with balance and gait.”

After Krampe gave a presentation on her research to staff at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center (EFCC), they saw the benefit of TLM for their cancer survivors and contacted Lebed Davis for advice on getting a certified instructor. Lebed Davis herself will travel to Columbia in October 2010 and conduct a three-day training session at EFCC. Krampe has also been interviewed on A Touch of Grey: The Talk Show for Grownups, a nationally syndicated daily radio talk show, and her research was mentioned in the July 2010 issue of Southwest Airline’s Spirit magazine.

Krampe’s first study, “Dance-Based Therapy in a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly,” was published in the April/June 2010 edition of Nursing Administration Quarterly. Her dissertation study was funded by a Research Enrichment and Dissemination award from the University of Missouri-Columbia Interdisciplinary Center on Aging She will join the faculty of St. Louis University School of Nursing as an assistant professor this fall.