24 April 1998

Rock 'Til You Drop

If heavy metal leads to senile dementia, elderly headbangers could do worse than head down to Kirkhaven nursing home in Rochester, USA. For as studies there have shown, residents who rock around the clock are both happier and healthier.

"The more they rocked, the better they felt," says nurse researcher Nancy Watson of Rochester University, speaking of a six-week study presented at the Eastern Nursing Research Society. "There's a stereotype of older people on a porch happily going back and forth in their rocking chairs. It turns out that the activity really does bring some peace of mind to many folks."

Benefits of zealous rocking for residents suffering from dementia include emotional well-being and an improved sense of balance.

Patients who rock incessantly even tend to request less medication to ease their daily aches and pains. "It's been very well documented with infants that a gentle repetitive motion has a soothing effect," says Watson. "We've shown that the same is true in an older population that is emotionally distressed."

With some 1.6 million people currently in US nursing homes - more than half of whom suffer from some form of dementia - expect "rocking-chair therapy" to become the latest vogue. Good news for residents and nursing home staff - and even better news for the manufacturers of the chairs.