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Dance Therapy for Dementia Care: Benefits, Process, and Techniques

An illustration of 4 seniors dancing happily with each other to illustrate the benefits of dance therapy for dementia care

Dance/movement therapy utilizes movement to foster well-being outcomes. In dementia care, dance/movement therapy typically occurs in a group setting. In contrast to aerobic exercise or dance-fitness classes for individuals living with dementia, where they may be taught or asked to follow particular movements, dance/movement therapy aims to promote opportunities for residents to express internal themes, and embody them from the inside out. 

When a dance/movement therapy session happens, the themes that are explored, the music that is used, and the props that may be added, depend on the participants’ interests, abilities, and inspirations. In this blog, a few particular benefits of dance therapy in dementia care will be shared, with the techniques and processes that help to bring them about. 

3 Benefits of Dance Therapy for Dementia

Benefit 1: Fostering Community and Social Connections

Although residents in dementia care may often already be familiar with each other, and the care staff present, dance therapy provides meaningful opportunities to connect with others on an embodied level. Expressing aspects of self through a gesture (such as sharing a gesture for one’s name or current emotional state) can be a bonding moment. When seated in a circle, every participant can be seen by the whole group, in a way that feels supportive.

As a dance therapist in these settings, I also prioritize learning participants’ names and using them frequently to acknowledge movements I see around the room. For example, I might say “I see Mary is exploring a circular movement with her left arm, can we all give that a try?” or, “It looks like Frank is having fun with a side-to-side groove, let’s join him with that rhythm.” 

An illustration of a community of seniors dancing happily with each other to illustrate the benefits of dance therapy for dementia care

Benefit 2: Fostering Creativity and Opportunities for Choice 

Rather than a prescriptive movement activity (e.g., “Now everyone move your arm up and then down”), dance therapy highlights an intrinsically-motivated approach to movement. By providing improvisational movement prompts, rather than direct movements to follow, participants are encouraged to be creative.

One technique to bring this about is using sensory imagery, such as exploring the feeling of being surrounded by water. Participants can choose to interpret these kinds of prompts in their own way, promoting creativity and agency. Some may enjoy more fluid movements, others may take a more playful interpretation, and consider splashing or kicking the water. However the prompt is interpreted, participants are drawn out to explore their own ideas with movement. 

Benefit 3: Fostering Positive Emotions

Music is an integral aspect of the dance therapy session in dementia care. In particular, I try to utilize songs that are not only familiar, but also provide a steady rhythmic structure to keep the energy of the session going. Nostalgic songs that participants can sing and dance along to can promote feelings of joy and confidence. Another technique that can promote positive emotions in the dance therapy session is exploring different tactile props. Using coloured silk scarves or an Octaband ® can encourage moving in different and fun ways. Oftentimes with scarves, participants may enjoy wearing it, folding it, or stretching it in a variety of ways. 

In this blog post, three of the many benefits of dance therapy for dementia care have been briefly explored: fostering community, creativity, and positive emotions. Contact us to find out about bringing dance therapy to your dementia care community.


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