Oct. 22 - Scientists have discovered differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that may help them avoid dizziness while performing pirouettes. The findings could lead to the development of dance therapy to treat patients with chronic dizziness, a condition experienced by one in four people during their lives. Jim Drury has more.
Ballerina Clare Haven can perform multiple pirouettes....confident she'll never get dizzy. Now a British neurologist wants to adapt her skills to create a dance therapy to treat chronic dizziness. Scientists have long believed that the sole reason for ballerinas' impressive balance is a skill they develop early on, called "spotting". SOUNDBITE (English) CLAIRE HAVEN, STUDENT AT ROYAL ACADEMY OF DANCE, SAYING: "It's something that you're taught how to do, it's not something that's natural. As you get older you're taught what spotting is, so you whip your head round. As you get older you practise where your balance is." But consultant neurologist Barry Seemungal has a new theory - through constant practice, dancers train their brains to suppress signals from the inner ear's balance organs. His research team at Imperial College London tested female dancers and rowers, of the same age and similar fitness levels. Both were spun round in the dark in this chair. Volunteers turned a handle when they felt dizzy, while electrodes on their forehead helped monitor eye movement. SOUNDBITE (English) BARRY SEEMUNGAL, CLINICAL SENIOR LECTURER FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE AT IMPERIAL, AND DIZZINESS EXPERT, SAYING: "When we correlated dizziness sensation to the white matter structure in non-dancers we found a very strong correlation between how dizzy you were and the strength of a white matter network in the cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain we use to sense and perceive things. In the dancers we did not find this correlation." Brain scans also revealed the area of the cerebellum responsible for processing sensory input in the inner ear was smaller in dancers. SOUNDBITE (English) BARRY SEEMUNGAL, CLINICAL SENIOR LECTURER FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE AT IMPERIAL, AND DIZZINESS EXPERT, SAYING: "The difference was so stark that we rechecked our results but it was quite clear that this was a real result, and it demonstrates to us that the brain is a very plastic organ." The study could have implications for treating chronic dizziness, which affects one in four people at some time during their lives. Seemungal thinks dance therapy could be the answer. SOUNDBITE (English) BARRY SEEMUNGAL, CLINICAL SENIOR LECTURER FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE AT IMPERIAL, AND DIZZINESS EXPERT, SAYING: "Dancing which includes an element of spinning....in a graded and controlled fashion, that would be the way that we proceed.....we are aiming to get funding to test this idea, but we feel it is likely to be of some use." Used alongside medication, Seemungal says the therapy would be fun and cost-effective. He says it would allow large numbers of patients to be treated simultaneously, while putting a new spin on treatment for an old and very common complaint.