Lisa Stegall, Hamline University – Moving to the Music May Reduce Fall Risk in the Elderly

Dancing isn’t just for the young.

Lisa Stegall, Assistant Professor of Biology at Hamline University, reports the elderly also see a benefit.

Dr. Ferguson-Stegall is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN, and directs the Integrative Physiology Laboratory. She earned her PhD in Exercise Physiology from the University of Texas at Austin. She received further training as a NIH Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School in muscle physiology and aging biology. Her lab studies systemic adaptations that occur in response to exercise training and nutritional supplementation, as well as the role of exercise and mind-body interventions to improve physical function and cardiorespiratory health.

Moving to the Music May Reduce Fall Risk in the Elderly

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Could getting up and moving to the music decrease the risk of falling in the elderly?  My colleague Kathy Thomsen and I designed a study to find out, and our findings are promising.

Once a week for nine weeks, seniors aged 60 to 80 years old participated in an hour of music and movement training called Dalcroze eurhythmics. Led by a certified instructor who played improvised music on a piano, the seniors walked in time with the music, changed directions, and handled and passed objects rhythmically. They moved individually, with a partner, and in small groups to increase social interaction.

Our research team, made up of faculty and students from the Exercise Science, Music, and Public Health programs, tested the participants’ walking ability before and after the intervention, and found that gait (or walking) speed significantly improved. This held true even when participants were asked to walk and perform another task at the same time, called dual tasking. This latter finding is important because most falls occur while walking, especially when also performing other tasks.

Why did this intervention improve dual-task walking speed by 20%? We hypothesize that the improvement was due to the multicomponent movement training that’s unique to Dalcroze eurhythmics. Stepping to the beat of the music while carrying a ball, and passing that ball to another person in time with the music requires awareness, attention, balance, and coordination. These are the same skills needed when navigating the home, neighborhood, or the grocery store.

This intervention is easy to implement in senior living and community centers. It requires musical expertise and training in Dalcroze eurhythmics, but virtually no equipment except a piano or keyboard, and space to move around. Our hope is that more senior programs will offer this type of intervention as an engaging and effective way to reduce fall risk in the elderly.

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