Monday, February 7, 2011

Tango for Life: Treating Alzheimer's with the Ocho

The Ocho Step may save you.

Americans are slowly waking up to the daunting reality of Alzheimer's.  In the family of cognitive illnesses that strike the elderly, Alzheimer's is the mother of all dementiae.  At the moment, an estimated 5 million Americans live with it, compared to 1 million patients with HIV, and with the gradually escalating age of the Baby Boomers, this number is projected to hit 10 million by 2050.  It's an illness which devastates the patient and exhausts the caretakers for a time-span of anywhere from five to twenty years.  And there's no cure.

Thus, a few weeks ago, when I found myself in a conversation with an Alzheimer's researcher, I was excited.  Surely, she had to be in the know of the cutting-edge developments.  I therefore couldn't resist asking her, "So, what are the most promising avenues for treating Alzheimer's?"

I expected some variation on the usual list of jargon: crossword puzzles, musical instruments, foreign languages, and a sprinkle of ApoE4.  But her answer surprised me.
"Well," she started, sounding exasperated from a years of tedious research, "It's been pretty bleak, but what has shown the most promise until now is tango."

Really?  Tango?  She even proceeded to back up her answer scientifically.  "It's the combination of complex movement and mental stimulation" which appears to provide a veritable soup of nutrients that prevent brain cells from hardening into the infamous amyloid plaques that characterize Alzheimer's.

Furthermore, a dance is not just a dance.  In recent studies on mobility, memory, cognition, and depression, tango consistently equaled or significantly outperformed American Walz, Foxtrot, and even Tai Chi in reducing symptoms.  This would be because of the endless intricacies of tango which continuously challenge the brain at all levels.

Listen to this touching report on tango, including an interview with Dr Patricia McKinley, a professor for kinesiology at McGill University, on PRI's The World with Richard Reynolds.  It will make you want to get your dance shoes on and learn the Ocho, for your future.

To see local tango afficionados from twenty-something to seventy-something showing off their élan, I highly encourage you to stop by Adolfo Caszarry's Thursday night Milongas, held weekly at San Francisco's Verdi Club.  A free class for beginners takes place before the party begins.