Dance and Dementia: my experience of teaching for Alzheimer’s suffers

For over a year now I have been working with Alzheimer’s Support on their movement for the mind classes in and around Wiltshire.

Movement for the mind is an inclusive movement session aimed at giving people with dementia an opportunity to undertake some gentle physical exercise, while also engaging with others in a social event. The sessions take place in local communities every two weeks and combine gentle chair based exercise with music and props.

When I took on the role in 2018, I had no prior experience of leading sessions like these, and to be totally honest I had limited experience of teaching adults. Most of my teaching experience has been geared at Secondary School age (11-18), with my more recent work focussing on primary aged children (4-11). So branching out to undertake regular work with adults, and particularly more vulnerable adults with dementia, was a huge learning curve for me.

A typical one of my sessions includes some breathing exercises, a gentle warm up that works through the body and builds in intensity, some games and activities, dance routines on or off the chair and a cool down. It’s all followed by tea and biscuits and a chance to catch up on the week.

I love it.

I love the time I get to speak with sufferers and their families. I love teaching the slow paced movements. I love how much we laugh every session. And I love how I always come away from each session with a smile on my face.

And it’s not just me. Some of the older people who come along to these sessions might not get out of the house for the remainder of the week. It is so heartwarming to see them come alive; to laugh and talk and enjoy being out of the house.

Dance stimulates the brain and the body as well as tapping into the magic of music. It has lots of social elements as well as offering an opportunity for people to express themselves and most importantly to move. 1

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about the benefits of dance on cognitive functions, particularly in relation to dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s suggested that regular engagement in dance can reduce the occurrence of dementia.

New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that dancing dramatically reduces the occurrence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 2

While I would not necessarily state that my sessions are “dance” classes, there is always a dance element to them. We use music in every session and we coordinate movements to the music. We use variations of actions and build on them week to week.

What is lovely is the growth and the developed ability that some of our attendees have shown. I often use some of the same tracks, week in and out. By now, a few of my regulars do remember the songs and sometimes the movements. It’s brilliant to see.

Dementia is such a debilitating disease that strips people of their identities and leaves them as a shell of their former selves. Through my work with Alzheimer’s Support I have gotten to know some real characters. And also some people with incredible stories to tell. Giving these vulnerable older people the chance to connect socially, while developing and improving their fine motor skills and cognitive functions, is so vitally important. It is work that I enjoy and will continue to do so for a long time. I hope!

1: SCIE.org

2: psychologytoday.com

For information about dementia and Alzheimer’s in the UK please visit:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alzheimers-disease/

Some useful websites:

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/

https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/about-dementia/types-of-dementia/alzheimers-disease/about/

https://www.alz.co.uk/

If you would like details on movement for the mind classes in Wiltshire then please visit:

https://www.alzheimerswiltshire.org.uk/movement-for-the-mind

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