Alzheimer’s is a type of progressive neurodegenerative disease, leading to deterioration in cognitive function (i.e. the ability to process thought). People with dementia go through a range of emotions like anger, fear, grief, and frustration. A person with dementia can be coping with the feeling that they are strangers in their own body and experience changed behaviors and feelings, which they find difficult to express. Hence, it is important to treat them in a way, which reinforces the feeling that they are individuals and they deserve to be cared and understood.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, research shows that stimulating specific areas of the brain has shown to reduce the symptoms, and keep Alzheimer’s from progressing. The combination of mental and physical activities has many benefits including improved memory and stronger neuronal-connections. Hence, it is important to engage them in such activities, encourage their communications, and provide them an outlet for self-expression. There are wide varieties of memory care activities that can help to boost cognitive function and ease dementia symptoms.
Music and dance are very powerful tools for those living with dementia and are excellent memory care activities. For many people, music is closely linked to emotions. Music helps to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Music is not just beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients; it can also elevate the moods of loved ones and caregivers. Research has shown that brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease. Hence, musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease. Dance movements, according to the American Dance Therapy Association, is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical, social, and spiritual integration of the individual. Integration of the mind and body are important for individuals having Alzheimer’s.
We, Malavika Menon and Pooja Menon founders of a non-profit organization (Nandanam Arts), have been involved in the volunteering activities for Alzheimer’s care centers since 2020. We assist them to participate in games (such as puzzles, sudoku, bingo), and often perform dance sessions for them as a therapeutic form of entertainment. As a part of this program, we encourage attendees to try out simple dance movements to improve their motor skills. It is such an immense pleasure to perform for them, and it is very rewarding to interact with them and witness their emotional wellness. We experienced that dance and music can shower them with stimuli and can derive great pleasure from movement and improve their motor skills. We pay honor when we dance with them, when we relate to them in a bodied way, and when we attempt to understand their nonverbal communications. This empowers them to know that they are seen, heard, appreciated and respected. It helps them to feel like they have a purpose!
Some of the experiences of interacting with Alzheimer’s patients were phenomenal. One of the members in an Alzheimer’s care center with which we have been working with was not interacting or responding much to anybody. We spent several hours with the group she was in, talking about dance and music and making them listen to several songs. We performed a few dances with beats for them. After that performance, she asked us to come closer to her through her actions. She started telling in broken words that she was a ballet dancer and we could see excitement in her eyes for few minutes. It was a surprise to the administrative people of the center that we could evoke her emotions and memory at least for a few minutes.
Dancing involves different brain functions at the same time, like music, emotions, thought, and learning. Each of these functions is handled differently by the brain, which helps to develop different neural paths and connections. More specifically, dancing produces challenges to the brain, including memory, coordination, attention, and cognition. What you hear, see, and do during dancing stimulates sensory and motion centers of the brain. Dancing has also been effective in stimulating social interaction, enhancing mood, reducing anxiety, and increasing self-expression. It is not necessary that they need to perform actual dance moves to receive the benefits. Even just the stretching of their legs while they sit in their chairs or using their arms to perform an exciting dance exercise can stimulate their mind.
The ultimate goal is to help people with diminishing cognitive abilities to connect with the world around them. When they are judged, ignored, or devalued, they feel emotionally unsafe. They cannot recognize people, they cannot know where they are and what time it is… nevertheless, they remain!!! Hence, it is vital to create a loving, caring and an active environment for people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
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This article is intended for informational, entertainment or educational purposes only and should not be construed as advice, guidance or counsel. It is provided without warranty of any kind.