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Music and movement exercise may stave off dementia

SEATTLE - Alzheimer's disease is the third leading cause of death in Washington state. Now, there's some exciting new research going on that involves music, but there's a group of women in Seattle who say they already believe that music and movement help keep them in early stages of dementia.

And get this, they're in their 90s.

At this age they still exercise, just not the same way they used to. Once a week, they gather in their chairs at Nikkei Manor in Seattle and they follow their instructor through a full 30 minutes of chair Zumba.

The class, taught by Victoria Lum, helps them keep both bodies and brains healthy.

"I'm hoping to avoid Alzheimer's," said Toshi Okamoto, who's 91.

Lum started teaching Zumba to this age group after caring for her mom, who suffered from dementia. And now her students show how it keeps them moving and their brains engaged.

"I think it keeps me strong and at my age I can still, you know, live by myself with my son. So that is good," said Kiyo Ono, who's 90.

Watching them go through moves with smiles on their faces makes you just want to tap your feet and dance with them. It's easy to see that the music does immediately improve mood and now researchers want to know if it can have long-term effects - even reduce prescription medications for dementia patients?

Researchers in several states are now studying the connection.

"Every dementia patient is different," Lum said. "But one that's common is that they just slide into their own world, no schedule. And music just reaches them and, how do you know they're happy? They start smiling."

Lum is now organizing a full Zumba-thon to coincide with the Summer Solstice's longest day of the year -- June 21, an international awareness day for Alzheimer's disease.

She's looking to recruit 200 dancers at three different locations to raise $5,000 for the local Alzheimer's chapter.

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For more information:

Victora Lum's team page for The Longest Day

Dance 2BU with Victoria Lum

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