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article imageDoes the Māori haka and language delay dementia?

By Tim Sandle     May 13, 2017 in Science
Auckland - A new study, investigating the low rates of dementia among the Māori people, suggests the Maori haka and language could help to keep dementia at bay.
The finding stems from research undertaken at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The research question was to investigate if performing the kapa haka is one of the contributing factors that helps stave off dementia in older Māoris? On paper, the Māori population should be at a greatest risk of dementia than the rest of the Aotearoa population. Māori's, in general, are subject to higher risk factors commonly associated with dementia, including less access to health care, lower socioeconomic status, and higher incidences of cardiovascular disease and smoking.
However, a study of around 900 people aged between 80 and 90 years found no higher incidences of dementia. This led to further investigation, as the New Zealand Herald has reported. Adopting an anthropological stance, the researchers speculate that the reason for lower incidences of dementia relate to the Māori population being bilingual. The Māori population speak their native Te Reo language as well as English. In addition, the people tend to engage in a range of cultural activities.
What is haka?
The haka is a traditional war cry, dance, or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. The New Zealand sports teams' practice of performing a haka before their international matches is well-known, particularly the rugby football side the All Blacks. This strays a little from the traditional form, as shown in the video below.
The most popular form is the Kapa haka, which is an avenue for Maori people to express and showcase their heritage and cultural Polynesian identity through song and dance.
How does language and ritual help?
The reasons why being bilingual and engaging in cultural practices might help stave off dementia will require further study. Lead reseacher Ngaire Kerse told the BBC: "Older Maori have substantial roles involving advanced cognitive activities and, along with kapa haka, cultural activities may provide greater cognitive stimulation and thus preservation of cognition."
The research is published in a university research brief, pending a peer reviewed paper. The research brief is titled "‘Health, Independence and Caregiving in Advanced Age."
More about Maori, Dementia, Haka, Linguistics
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