David Marquez has received a four-year, $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to see if a four-month instructional dance program for Latino seniors can improve their level of physical activity — and with it, their balance and mobility and cognitive function.
Latinos ages 65 to 74 are much less likely than other seniors to participate in physical leisure-time activities. Senior Latinos are also twice as likely to report difficulty walking as are non-Latino whites. They develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease an average of seven years earlier. These health disparities are likely due in part to Latinos’ lower physical activity, says Marquez, UIC associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition.
“Older Latinos are also at high risk of developing disabilities, and one of our long-term goals is to prevent disability among this disadvantaged group,” Marquez said.
Dance is widely accepted among Latinos, but seniors have few opportunities for dancing and may not have danced at all since they were children, Marquez said. Night club dancing is often too fast-paced and too late at night for older adults. In a pilot study of his dance program, Marquez found that there was a lot of interest in dancing among this population.
Marquez teamed up with Miguel Mendez, an accomplished Latin dance instructor. With input from focus groups, they developed an instruction program of Latin dances for older adults called BAILAMOS. The tempo slows at times, and people who need to can spend more time on a given dance step. Everyone is able to learn the steps and do the four dances by the end of the class, Mendez said.
The four-month, twice weekly dance classes will be offered in senior centers, community centers and park buildings. Half of the 332 older Latinos who will be recruited will be assigned to the dance instruction program, and the other half will serve as a control group for the study.