Parkinson’s impairs movement. This group dances to keep symptoms at bay.

For people with Parkinson’s, daily life can grow more difficult as the disease impairs their movement and balance.

Exercise is one of the best ways to slow down these symptoms. That’s why people with Parkinson’s and their partners gather at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon every Tuesday for a weekly dance class.

Editor’s note: We recommend listening to the audio above to hear what it’s like to be in one of these classes.

Kevin and Sharon Thomson of West Lebanon attend classes together.

They said the movements they practice in class have helped ease some of Sharon’s symptoms and she is incorporating them into her daily life. “I’m not so afraid to do things,” he said. “… If I can do this, I can do it.”

The group covers all types of dances: the macarena, tango and twist were among the dances in an April class.

Richard and Diane Caruso have been leading the Parkinson’s Dance Class at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center since 2017, drawing on their backgrounds in ballroom, Latin and other types of dance. They adapt the routines to work on issues that people with Parkinson’s face such as balance, coordination, strength and mobility.

“We’re just trying to find all the things that people want to work on that will make their lives a little bit better, and we do that with music,” Richard Caruso said.

Research by the Parkinsons Foundation has found that exercising for at least two and a half hours a week can slow the progression of the disease and help maintain quality of life.

For many in the dance class, the benefits are both social and physical.

Parkinson’s can be a “devastating” diagnosis, said Betsy Warren of West Lebanon, but it helps to be around others. Along with dancing, she has taken up boxing and joined the board of Upper Valley Programs for Parkinson’s, which runs several exercise programs.

“I had no idea I would make so many good friends when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” she said.

Another participant, Dick Roy of Woodstock, Vermont, said he and his wife loved dancing at birthday parties and weddings.

“That’s the hardest part for me, is that I can’t dance anymore,” she said.

Still, he comes to these classes for the exercise and camaraderie.

“It’s kind of frustrating, because I can’t do what I used to do,” he said. “… But the benefit outweighs the frustration.”

Richard Caruso said the people in the class support each other a lot. It is also beneficial for partners of people living with Parkinson’s.

“A lot of people refer to it as date night,” she said. “This is our night out. We’re holding hands, we’re dancing together, we’re doing things we used to do when we were young.”

Members of Parkinson’s dance class end the day.

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