Dancing with Dementia
“If you bring joy to someone living with dementia and you warm their heart, that feeling can live on for them for three whole days”. Claire Kerrigan, Q&A Grandma Remember Me
That really stuck with me, and I knew as an organisation we could give rise to these feelings through creative dance. I had experience of working through dance in care settings and had made a conscious choice, when my aunty was diagnosed with dementia, to invite those living with dementia into our intergenerational classes. However, we had yet to hold a class specifically for those living with dementia until September 2019.
If we did offer classes to those living with dementia, I also wanted to ensure that the carer or loved one was also invited into the space to dance. Here we could create a connection between those two people that they may not have experienced in other activities, especially those in a spouse or family relationship.
Many activities offered to those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia are about recalling memories, a class in reflection to what they may have taken part in as a young adult such as tea dances, partner dances, and ballroom dancing. But that got me thinking, what if someone came to our classes who might have been diagnosed in their thirties? Is pitching our sessions only for the older generation correct in 2019?
Green Candle Dance Company’s ‘Remember to Dance’ report shows “growing evidence that regular dance activities can improve and prolong good quality of life for people in different stages of dementia”.
As an organisation, we believed we could excel at supporting those living with dementia as much of our work centres on creative dance. A note for the reader: creative dance is about offering the dancer room for personal expression. In our sessions, the dancers are bound by structured tasks, but the meat of the dancing comes from their own movement and ideas. This is why it is so good for the brain, as it is sending signals to both sides of the brain and keeping it active: the analytical left side to make sense and plan out what the next move is and the creative emotional right side.
Back to our studio: Partners of those with dementia were hesitant when they initially came to sessions about creative dance and so were our funding partners the Alzheimer’s Society. They were expecting a tea dance.
We noticed that many partners/carers and loved ones would enter the space seemingly angry or upset. Perhaps due to the journey it had taken to get their loved one to the space and ready for the day ahead had already been testing. We therefore ensured that we welcomed people into our sessions as if we already knew them well; making sure they are well hosted, offered a cuppa, talking to everyone, and saying hello to them individually. “Each time you see someone living with Dementia, it is like they are meeting you for the first time, so introduce yourself to them.”
When we move into the actual dance session, we choose tasks which will instantly stimulate the brain, simple things, funny things where the group could have fun together and laugh together and forget about the diagnosis.
Creative tasks help ensure that the person becomes an individual dancer and means that in that space for a time their partner sees the loving husband, or joyful wife, or even a mum with a smile so wide on her face. We believe it helps you remember what those times were like before diagnosis.
I have so many fond memories from these precious sessions, but one of my favourite times was when I was sitting next to a gentleman with dementia whose wife was very disengaged to join in and, as in the week previous, he had therefore not really taken part.
We started by moving the head from side to side and as I got to him, I paused and smiled looking straight into his eyes, he smiled back at me and that’s all it took. The next task came that involved some funky music and shaking of the arms and body and I stood in front of him waving my arms around and being funny; he stood up too and started dancing and I then stepped away for his wife to move in and dance with him. At the end of the session, she said to us that class was absolutely wonderful and it took her back to when they used to dance together in the ballroom (even though they weren’t ballroom dancing) and for that whole class she felt like a wife rather than a carer.
That is what dance can offer!
We know there is currently no cure for all types of dementia, but at the Dance Network Association we truly believe that we can help play a part in improving the lives of people with dementia if they begin or keep dancing.
When you step into our studio you connect to that individual person living with dementia every week and you capture them completely in the movement that you are offering to them. That feeling could stay with them for more than three days.
At the Dance Network Association, we aim to reduce the need for medication and support the reduction of social isolation (which has so many detrimental health issues) through creative dance.
Due to COVID-19 we have had to put our usual activities on hold to be able to survive during this time. We therefore need your help now more than ever!
We cannot wait to be there for many when this is all over so please give whatever you can to help us carry on our work.
Yes – I’d like to give the gift of love to DNA and ensure it’s there offering great work after COVID-19. https://www.dancenetworkassociation.org.uk/support-us