Dancing Away Dementia: The Full Mind-Body Experience
The loss that comes from living with dementia goes further than just memory. It can lead to the loss of happiness and joy as abilities dwindle, eventually causing depression and a poor quality of life. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Beth Covault, Director of Community Relations of Azpira Place® of Breton, a senior living community in Kentwood, MI.
“People living with dementia still can get joy from socializing, engaging with others and enjoying activities that are fun and meaningful,” she says. Connection – that intangible spark that occurs when you relate to and share experiences with another – can happen in so many ways besides just simple conversation. One excellent way is through the arts – a field that has helped people connect throughout the ages.
“Art therapies have long been a part of the health and wellness profession because they focus on so much more than just physical health and abilities,” says Beth. “The arts help us feel, imagine and dream, reaching into our souls and our emotions. Think about listening to a particularly moving piece of music, or laughing at a funny photo. These provide benefits that are practically impossible to get through any form of physical therapy or exercise.”
One of the more recent forms of art therapy that is gaining traction in Memory Support is dance therapy. Also known as movement therapy, it is being used to help encourage communication, engage participants and provide outlets for self-expression.
“Dance and movement therapy is all about connecting the mind, body and core self and encouraging potential and possibility,” says Beth. “Experts say that we move the body to move the mind, and we’ve seen firsthand how dancing can help those with dementia laugh, love, enjoy and connect with others – no matter what stage of dementia they are in.”
What Is Dance Therapy?
According to the American Dance Therapy Association, dance therapy is the use of physical movement to encourage an individual's brain, spirit, body and soul. It focuses on the idea that every aspect of our self is connected, and that our life experiences are held in our body (a belief that is held throughout a variety of holistic therapies including massage therapy). Through the use of movement, dance therapists help individuals recall and re-experience memories and emotions.
For those living with dementia, dance and movement therapy has been proven to help enhance moods, improve social interaction, reduce unwanted behaviors and emotions and allowing the individual to express themselves.
What Does Dance Therapy Look Like?
There is no one “set” way to practice dance therapy – it depends on the participants, the therapist and how the experience flows organically at the time. Generally, a session starts with all the participants forming a circle so everyone can see each other. The therapist will begin the session by warming everyone up through movements in their fingers, toes and other extremities – exercises that can be done in a chair, since many participants may have difficulty with mobility.
Then, as the group gets “warmed up,” the therapist may comment on how different participants are moving and naming the behaviors, such as tapping toes or clapping hands. The therapist will then start coaching the group to perform activities together, and the session will evolve from there.
“It’s less important to have a rigid plan in place for the session and more important to go with the flow,” says Beth. “A good therapist will read the room and organically discover what actions and activities are speaking to the individuals at that particular session.” A therapist will also use tools like redirection to help manage any challenging behaviors that occur – something that’s common in those with dementia.
Dance/movement therapy can even maintain and at times improve memory and cognitive functioning. The focus of communication is on non-verbal attunement and mindfulness, both of which become increasingly important as many dementias affect language and cognitive awareness.
The Mind-Body Experience
Many studies have shown that dancing can help improve brain health and allow us to age well. The benefits are a little different in someone with dementia. While cognitive activities do help those with dementia maintain and exercise their existing abilities, dance therapies focus more on the healing aspect of dance instead of the preventative nature that someone else might benefit from.
“Dance therapy focuses on movement as a way for those with dementia to cope with their experiences and make life a little more pleasant,” says Beth. “Yes, they’re gaining significant benefits such as strength training, balance training and endurance, but those are things you can get from other forms of exercise. Dancing as a form of self-expression provides an outlet for those with dementia to get their energy out or express themselves in a way that’s accessible to them.”
Besides the physical and emotional benefits, dancing can help people with dementia feel less isolated and more socially engaged. Dancing is a group exercise, and many times it focuses on two or more people creating something together. Think of partner dancing like swing or ballroom – it’s essential to the art to have people “partner” to create magic on the dance floor. While swing dancing may be a bit out of reach for those with dementia, the emotional connection and excitement that comes from performing together can boost endorphins and improve moods like one other.
Five Ways Dance Therapy Makes a Difference
- It helps individuals express themselves in new ways by developing a “physical vocabulary.” This can be done through the body or with props like parachutes, foam noodles or scarves.
- It reduces agitation and anxiety, because movement keeps people with dementia engaged and active, even when they’re not speaking. This eases frustration, fear and other unwanted behavioral issues.
- It can trigger memories through a favorite song, a cultural dance or something we can’t even put our finger on. Music therapy has been proven to stimulate parts of our brain that aren’t affected by dementia, and it may be that dance reaches those places, too.
- It improves health and well-being by producing endorphins, stimulating senses and getting people to move their muscles – all good things that help get the blood pumping.
- It improves quality of life by giving everyone involved a chance to express themselves and feel joy together.
If you have any questions about dance therapy and how it benefits those with dementia, to learn more about life at Azpira Place of Breton, please contact us at 616-259-5526 .
Live Well. Age Well. Be Well.
At Azpira Place® of Breton, located in Kentwood, MI, we’re redefining how seniors Live Well. Age Well. Be Well. Our lifestyle is far from “typical.” Our vibrant and engaging Assisted Living and uplifting A Knew Day® Memory Support inspires our residents to live passionately with purpose, every single day
Each day, our residents find the person-centered support and care they need, all while enjoying an inspiring and engaging lifestyle. The need for care or support doesn’t stop our residents from wanting to be active, involved or engaged, and it especially doesn’t keep them from obtaining the lifestyle they desire and deserve. With a variety of spacious private apartment floor plans, constant access to good company, exciting services and amenities, delicious dining experiences and life-enriching programming, residents never have to worry about having nothing to do. There’s always something waiting for them just outside their door! And best yet, if they desire space and privacy, there’s also plenty of room for that, too! Spend time outdoors in the sunshine, read a favorite book in the library, take your pet for a walk or simply relax in your private apartment, the possibilities are endless!
At Azpira Place® of Breton, residents never have to worry about maintenance, housekeeping or the tasks of homeownership. We created our community so our residents could have the peace of mind of care while focusing on what really matters, what makes them who they are. With engaging VIVA!SM programming by Pathway to Living®, residents can spend their newfound time learning something new, enjoying an old pastime, taking up a new hobby, starting their own classes and clubs or focusing on their health with our wellness programming. Experience the lifestyle you deserve and discover the key to what helps Azpira Place of Breton residents Live Well. Age Well. Be Well.
To learn more or schedule a personal visit, call us at 616-259-5526.