Dancing Through Dementia: What is Dance/Movement Therapy?

Dance is known to some as a performing art, to others as a way to burn off the calories from the chocolate cake that your co-worker brought to the office, or a way to blow off steam in the nightclub on a Saturday evening, but what about dance as a therapy? What about using dance as a way for individuals to communicate when traditional forms of communication are hindered by aphasia, mild cognitive impairment, or dementia ?

What is dance/movement therapy?

Dance/movement therapy, 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. Dance/movement therapy supports that mind, body, and spirit are connected and that individuals should be treated in such a way that supports integration of these three entities. Dance/movement therapy operates on the premise that our life experiences are held in the body, and that through the use of movement, memories and emotions can be recalled and re-experienced despite cognitive, psychological, or physical impairment. You can find dance/movement therapy groups in adult day centers, nursing and rehab facilities, as well as senior centers. In fact, your activity coordinators might even be dance/movement therapists. For more information on Arts and Aging check out Why Arts in Aging” by Katharine Houpt.

How can dance/movement therapy benefit someone living with a dementia diagnosis?

In regard to individuals with dementia, dance/movement therapy has been effective in stimulating social interaction, enhancing mood, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, increasing self-awareness and self-expression. Dance/movement therapy can even maintain and at times improve memory and cognitive functioning. The focus of communication is on non-verbal attunement and mindfulness, both of which become increasingly important as many dementias affect language and cognitive awareness. To get a glimpse into how dance/movement therapy can benefit older adults in long-term care, follow this link courtesy of Donna Newman-Bluestein’s blog Musings of a Dance Movement Therapist.

What does a dance/movement therapists do?

Dance/movement therapists use body movement, as the core component of dance, to provide the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy. Interventions and dance/movement therapy techniques are used to facilitate therapeutic processes. In a dance/movement therapy session, music and props are often incorporated to encourage extension of movement, self expression, and socialization. Many movement styles and approaches can be used to attain interaction and authentic expression including, but not limited to, creative drama, exercise, relaxation techniques, massage, social dancing, and interactive games.

Who are dance/movement therapists?

Dance/movement therapists have completed graduate degrees at programs approved by the American Dance Therapy Association. The course work includes biological, social, psychological and behavioral sciences, research methodology, movement assessment and observation, history, theory, and techniques of dance/movement therapy. Entry level dance/movement therapists have completed 750+ hours of supervised clinical practice. Board certification is earned upon completion of 4000 hours of supervised clinical work, 48 hours of clinical supervision, and acceptance of a theoretical framework by the Dance/Movement Therapy Certification Board. The National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) has recognized dance/movement therapy as a specialty of counseling since 1998.

For more information

Contact the American Dance Therapy Association at (410) 997-4040 or the IL Chapter of the American Dance Therapy Association. Stayed tuned for more information on dance/movement therapy and how it can be used with older adults and, more specifically, all forms of dementia.   Special thanks to Curious Expeditions on Flickr.com for the photo and to Kristen Pavle who edited this blog and supported this author through the writing process.  

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