It all happened in a matter of minutes. Terry Greenstein lost all knowledge of her past.
The 74-year-old dancing instructor suffered a stroke and a heart attack one summer night four years ago. Terry was fortunate to survive without any physical ailments, but the illnesses ravaged her brain, taking away her memory and ability to speak.
Terry could only recall the day she found out.
“I woke up and tried to say, ‘is this my husband?’ I wanted to see photos of Jerry and me,” she said. “I couldn’t remember him or our wedding. I didn’t know him.”
She couldn’t recall the simplest tasks, like how to make a bed or fold laundry. Learning to speak again was frustrating and difficult. Terry became very lonely.
Desiring more daily interaction with others their age, Terry and her husband, Jerry, moved to Edgewater Pointe Estates, an Acts Retirement-Life Community in Boca Raton, Florida. That’s where she began to make improvements, and even learned to dance again.
“It was just wonderful.” Terry said. “The steps just came to me … they came sporadically to me over time.”
Terry is amazed at how dancing has greatly improved her life, and helped strengthen her memory. In fact, dancing may be the best physical activity to “exercise” our brains. A recent study found extraordinary health benefits of dancing for individuals suffering from memory deterioration that commonly comes with aging.
The study, published this year in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, tested adults ranging from age 50 to 80, who had no signs of memory loss or impairment. They were assigned one of three activities: brisk walking, stretching and balance training or dancing. The participants’ brain scans, taken after six months of activities, showed dancers fared significantly better in brain health, particularly with memory.
Lead researcher Aga Burzynska, an assistant professor of human development at Colorado State University, told CNN that “increasing aerobic activities or introducing activities such as dance can help protect our brains from aging.”
The study found that the cognitive demands of dancing, choreography and balancing affect the biochemistry of the brain tissue in the fornix, “prompting increases in the thickness and quantity of the wiring there.”
Even compared to sedentary activities, like reading, playing cards and solving crossword puzzles, dancing may be more beneficial to strengthening memory. In 2003, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76 percent, twice as much as reading.
As Terry relearned how to speak and became more socially engaged with other residents at Edgewater Pointe Estates, it wasn’t long before her friends in the community asked her to teach
them to dance. Today, she leads a weekly dance class for residents interested in learning a new skill or improving their own brain health.
Despite being a former dance teacher, Terry was initially nervous to give her own lessons.
“My daughter was going to be there with me to see my first class, but she couldn’t make it. I was scared to do it alone, but I just did it. They loved it,” said Terry.
Her first jazz dance class, about eight months ago, had more than a dozen students.
Terry and her husband also perform together at a resident-produced variety show at their retirement community. To celebrate their milestones, the couple is planning Terry’s 75th birthday in September with an extravagant 100+ guest party at the retirement community.
A stroke may have robbed Terry of all her life’s prior memories, but together, she and Jerry are making new memories, thanks in part to Terry’s success with dancing.
“If you had seen her lying in that bed that day, you’d say this kid isn’t going anywhere, she’s finished. She really came around,” Jerry said. “The stroke only impacted her ability to speak and remember the past, it’s a miracle she maintained the ability to dance. The interaction with residents and cooperation of Edgewater Pointe staff really helped her recovery.”
Being an active member of a retirement community helped Terry to recover from her stroke. Click here to read seven ways living in a retirement community can benefit your health.
“The doctor told me ‘what’s done is done,’” Terry added. “Your past is gone; you just have to remember your future. I live for the day and can’t wait to go dancing.”
Looking for more ways to keep your mind and body young? Check out these 7 must-do exercises for seniors!
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