Dance Therapy Can Ease Symptoms of Dementia


None of us likes to think about growing older. As we age, it’s normal to lose some function in both mind and body. But dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease, while common, are not a natural part of the aging process.

Because one-third of seniors passes away with Alzheimer’s or another dementia disease, these conditions have become a somewhat-accepted part of getting old. But in addition to the acute memory loss, dementia patients also experience fear, frustration, anxiety, social isolation, and physical changes.

While medications can be utilized to lessen certain cognitive impairments, there are many aspects of these diseases that cannot be treated with pharmaceuticals. That’s why clinicians and therapists are looking to explore alternate methods of healing.

One such method is using dance therapy for dementia patients. Music therapy has already been shown to have a positive effect on dementia patients; now, dance therapy is getting some attention for its potential impact.

Dance therapy uses movement and music in order to connect motor functions, brain activity, and human emotion. While participating in dance therapy won’t help to restore lost memories, it can certainly help dementia patients connect in a social setting and recapture positive feelings from the past. It can also help to reduce agitation and stress, both of which are common in dementia diseases.

Seniors tend to become more sedentary as they age, especially if they have a condition like Alzheimer’s. But by using movement therapy, these seniors can reap the benefits of physical activity. They can relieve their anxiety by productive breathing or using their feet and hands to “throw away the pain.” Movement can also help to improve balance and flexibility. Those are beneficial for any senior, but especially for dementia patients who often experience even more reduction of mobility as the disease progresses.

Dr. James Ellison, who is a geriatric psychiatrist and the Swank Foundation Endowed Chair in Memory Care and Geriatrics at Christiana Care Health System, says that dance therapy “addresses a need that isn’t fulfilled by medication. It’s a wonderful way of humanizing the treatment we give to people with cognitive impairments.”

More evidence-based research needs to be conducted on the effects of dance therapy on dementia patients, but the discipline shows a lot of promise. For those who have tried it, it’s helped immensely to improve their quality of life.

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