The video game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) improves both cognitive and physical function in patients suffering from the degenerative central nervous system disease multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
The game involves coordinating movements in time to a combination of music and on-screen directions.
“DDR requires a lot of cognitive processing. Players must look at a screen and time their movements to the arrows on the screen,” researcher Nora Fritz said. “Incorporating DDR into standard MS treatments has the potential to improve balance, walking, cognition and motivation.”
Approximately 2.1 million people worldwide suffer from MS, which leads to progressive loss of nerve function and a suite of physical and sometimes even cognitive symptoms. The disease has no cure.
Prior studies have shown that exercise can improve coordination and slow cognitive decline in patients with Parkinson’s disease (another degenerative disorder), as well as in healthy senior citizens, but few studies have been performed on the effects of exercise in MS patients.
A prior study found that DDR was an effective method of physical therapy and mental stimulation in patients with Huntington’s disease, and that it improved patient motivation. This inspired the researchers to test the game’s effects on patients with MS.
“The video dancing game provides a good platform for our research because it addresses multiple issues that MS clinicians and patients face,” researcher Anne Kloos said.
“Healthier and more independent”
Participants in the study, all of them diagnosed with MS, were assigned to play a game of DDR three times per week for eight weeks. The researchers tested the participants’ cognitive function at both the beginning and end of the study, and performed brain scans using functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging to test for any changes in brain structure. The researchers found that cognitive and physical function had improved significantly after eight weeks.
“Participating in the study and doing the dance program has helped me feel healthier and more independent,” said participant Tracy Blackwell. “And that is really exciting.”
The findings are particularly important because many patients who receive an MS diagnosis feel as if they have been condemned to a lifetime of helplessness, the researchers said.
The researchers hope that their findings will prove helpful in providing not just a clinical tool for doctors, but also a cheaper alternative to intensive physical therapy that can even be performed in the patient’s own home. Next, they plan to study whether DDR can help improve multitasking abilities in MS patients.
Numerous studies have demonstrated major health benefits to regular dancing, including improved cardiovascular health (and a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke), improved muscle strength and control, increased bone density, and improved balance, flexibility and stamina. A 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that regular dancers had a significantly lower risk of dementia.
One of the benefits provided by dancing is that it exercises muscles not typically used in walking or running.