Aging, Falls, Music, and Dalcroze Eurhythmics

Often, but not always, students are accompanied by a piano.

How interesting to read about the research Effect of Music-Based Multitask Training on Gait, Balance, and Fall Risk in Elderly People (abstract), an article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The article is not freely available from the medical journal, so to read it you will need to speak with a librarian or go to a hospital library.

The article points out that most seniors’ falls occur when people are performing concurrent tasks and that “each year more than a third of the population 65 years and older experiences at least one fall.” The  Swiss medical researchers wondered whether participation in a music-based program involving concurrent tasks of movement and music might have a positive effect on the factors that can cause a fall — gait and balance — thereby reducing the frequency of falls.

The music activity they chose for their research is eurhythmics, a program of music education that combines music and movement, developed by composer Emile Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva in the early 20th century. Not surprisingly, at least not from my perspective as a college music major and life-long very amateur musician, people who participated in six months of Dalcroze eurhythmics reduced both the rate and the risk of falling by the end of the program compared to a control group that did not take the class but carried on with life as usual. When the control group subsequently took the class for six months, the researchers found the same results.

A November 22, 2010 Reuters Health article, Music Based Exercise Class Cuts Seniors’ Fall Risk by reporter Amy Norton, comprehensively covers this research, and in the article she describes a bit about what an exercise class might be like.

A class typically involves improvised piano music, with participants adapting their movements to the music’s rhythmic changes. In the current study, the classes started off simply — by having participants walk in time to the music — then gradually became more challenging over time. Besides footwork, participants sometimes had to perform upper-body movements or work with some object, like a percussion instrument or a ball, while moving.

How many people have ever heard about the Dalcroze methods? Quite a few, actually, though most of them are musicians or parents of young musicians who take Dalcroze classes as a part of their musical training. According to the Dalcroze Society of America, “… the Dalcroze approach teaches an understanding of music’s fundamental concepts, expressive meanings, and deep connections to other arts and activities. Performers, teachers, dancers, actors, children, and senior citizens can all benefit from this approach which incorporates rhythmic movement, aural training and improvisation.”

Here’s a video of adults participating in a Dalcroze class.

3 thoughts on “Aging, Falls, Music, and Dalcroze Eurhythmics

  1. How surprised would you be to hear that there’s an epidemic among the elderly that is the number one cause of injury and injury related death that could easily be put in check? According to the CDC, “about 1.8 million people 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries from falls”, “more than 433,000 were hospitalized”, “15,800 died from injuries related to unintentional falls” and these numbers are for 2005. The CDC estimates the annual cost of fall related injuries will reach $54.9 billion by 2020.

    At Synergy HomeCare of Connecticut, we have made it our responsibility to bring this issue to light and address it by offering education, support and preventative measures to minimize falls. The regularity and severity of elderly falls are especially unfortunate when one considers the inexpensive, common sense measures that can be taken to prevent many fall related injuries. There are many obstacles facing the elderly and their families, the fear of falling should not be one of them.

    As you age, falling becomes a more serious problem with increasingly poor outcomes, but falls should not be seen as an issue that only the elderly have to deal with. Fall prevention should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle; the habits you develop now will reduce the dangers of falling as you age. There are a number of preemptive measures you can take to reduce your current and future risk from falls.

    For example, regular exercise, a balanced diet, frequent medical and vision check-ups and sensible footwear are all vital elements of fall prevention. Healthy habits today lead to a more fulfilling, safer tomorrow, and we strongly believe it’s never too early to start!

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