TEDx Youth Talk

Kin Wong was the invited speaker at the TEDx Youth@Walnut conference, at the Industry Hills Expo Center in City of Industry, CA on Februrary 27, 2016.

Video with full text below:

Where I come from, senior fitness has been a tradition out of necessity for thousands of years. Last year I started a program, called Ballroom Dance for Senior Fitness, with the hope of beginning a National Fitness program. “Ballroom dancing is not a luxury. It is the best activity researchers have found to prevent dementia for seniors”

Alzheimer’s disease is only one type of dementia. It is one of the most horrible diseases imaginable, not only because it erodes a person’s memory, but also takes away their dignity, and robs them of their whole life’s achievement.

Alzheimer’s makes patients do things like, forget the way to the bathroom and stop recognizing family and love ones. It causes extreme mood swings because victims simply forget what happens from one moment to the next. These stressful incidents put constant pressure on the caregivers, who are often the family members. In fact, the burden of Alzheimer’s on caregivers is so great that depression is a common problem among them.

It’s well known that music, human touch, body movement and nutrition are essential for the cognitive health of seniors. What is lesser known is that ballroom dancing is the best activity to protect seniors against dementia. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003, frequent ballroom dancers have a 76% lower risk of dementia, compared to those who do not dance at all. (76%!!) Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine observed the recreational activities of over 400 participants age 75 and older, over the period of 21 years. They studied 13 physical and cognitive activities such as walking, dancing, bicycling, swimming, golfing, reading, and solving crossword puzzles to find out how each affected mental acuity. (Guess What?) Ballroom dancing showed the greatest reduction in the risk of getting dementia – far more than any other activity.

What makes ballroom dancing so special? you might ask. Well, it involves choreography, steps which require coordination of arms and legs, following the tempo of music; and talking to a stranger, that is your partner in real time. 1,2,3, 1,2, 3, These steps continue until the music stops. According to Stanford lecturer, Richard Powers, making these kinds of split-second decisions is the key to maintaining our cognitive abilities.

Let me give you an example of the impact ballroom dancing could make. Out of every 100 seniors, about 34 will suffer from dementia. Now, what if these same 100 seniors became frequent ballroom dancers? Do the math. 76% lower risk. Guess what happens? There would only be 8 dementia patients. In other words, 26 lives could be saved from dementia by just dancing.

Aside from preventing dementia, dancing also helps fight depression, and maintain heart health. I single out dementia, only because there is no cure available for our current generation of seniors no matter how much money we throw into Research and Development today.

In 2015, both Napa and Yountville mayors, Jill Techel and John Dunbar proclaimed July as “Ballroom Dance for Senior Fitness Awareness Month”. Yet, very few senior citizens do ballroom dancing, despite the overwhelming evidences and the growing government support. Out of the entire Napa County, which has a large retirement population, there are fewer than 100 frequent ballroom dancers, but, we probably have 150 thousands win-nos.

We have a problem. We have had a solution since 2003. How have come we still the same problem? What can you do to make a difference? Simple: go out and dance with a senior, one senior at a time. In Berkeley, California, high school student, Teah Cory, leads her social dance club of Maybeck High School to dance with seniors as a community service. You can do the same thing. What? you don’t dance? You can give them a ride. You can share this message with your friends and family. Tweet it, post it, and email it: whatever it takes to inspire a senior to join a local dance group where they can dance away dementia and dance away depression. Your actions could save lives, a lot of lives. Ballroom dancing is not a luxury. It is the best way to prevent dementia.

Social dancing has all of the elements needed to bring communities together: It’s social. It’s entertaining. It increases cognitive acuity at all ages. Because it’s so much fun, it is sustainable, but and it is also imperative to health. Together we can grow this ballroom dancing movement.

Ok, I need your help. I need your help to promote ballroom dance for seniors in your community. My program currently uses televised Public Service Announcements to provide information for local dance locations and schedules. We are extending this campaign to the San Francisco Bay Area. If you can find out your local senior dance schedules, please, send it to me by Facebook. I will gladly work with you to spread this awareness in your community.

As I said, in Napa County, we have less than 100 frequent ballroom dancers. What if, you were inspired today, right at this moment, willing to dance – for a purpose? What if, each of you invited one of your parents or grandparents to come dancing with you? We would have over a 100 senior dancers instantly with over 100 of you. Ballroom dance for senior fitness will prevail because of you. Remember, ballroom dancing is not a luxury. It is the best way to prevent dementia.

Your actions today will change public policy tomorrow. Communities will unite to host the dance. Government will pay the bills. Young people, like you, will bring the energy to the dance floor along with respect for seniors. Happy and healthy seniors will dance with joy. Imagine, we will finally have our own national fitness program – Ballroom Dancing.

I am frequently asked what motivates me to keep this program running. I don’t have a good answer for that. I am not a doctor, and I don’t have any close family members suffering from dementia. However, some day when I grow old, when I become a senior citizen myself, what if, I have someone, like you, to take me dancing?