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Expressing to Connect: Dance/Movement Therapy for People with Dementia

dementia and movement therapy

Expressing to Connect: Dance/Movement Therapy for People with Dementia

As the population of older adults is increasing, it is relevant and necessary to find therapies that are effective in working with memory loss and other issues that older adults face. More and more research is being done regarding expressive therapies in older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Dance/movement therapy has proven beneficial for many reasons, including increased self-esteem, enhanced creativity and self-expression, cognitive organization, emotional regulation, and increased socialization. Additionally, communicating with others is fostered, both verbally and non-verbally.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines dance/movement therapy as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of the individual” and is based on the belief that body and mind are interrelated.

Dance/Movement Therapy has shown both physiological and psychological benefits. When we engage in movement, our bodies release endorphins, our “feel good” chemicals–which help us to feel better overall. People who have participated in dance/movement therapy (DMT) have reported feeling less tense, more relaxed (or more energized, depending on the movement) and decreased pain. Psychologically, moods and emotions can be affected, interpersonal relationships can shift, and a person’s mental health may improve. The wonderful thing about DMT is that it can be recommended for anyone, regardless of diagnosis, age, or ability. A therapist can ‘meet the client where he or she is,’ meaning that the approach can and should be tailored to each individual persons’ needs.

When working with a person with dementia, goals can often include increasing expression, communication, interpersonal interaction, and socialization, and finding a way for the client to actively engage in the here-and-now experience. In keeping in the here-and-now experience, you can truly meet the client where he/she is–there isn’t any pressure to say or do the right thing, or to remember what you had for breakfast or where you grew up.  Just like we hold memories in our minds, we also have body (and sensory) memory–Certain sites, smells, tastes remind us of other things—so can movement. Movement can evoke memories long “forgotten” by the mind. It really is a testament to the body-mind connection. For people who have dementia, verbal communication and expression can become challenging, and DMT provides an outlet for them to be expressive non-verbally, too, through facial expressions, posture, gesture, and more expressive movement. Because of communication or memory difficulties, people can tend to isolate themselves, so it is important to be mindful of how they interact with others. DMT can encourage people to feel more comfortable in their bodies and environments, which may promote increased social interactions.

In thinking from a dance/movement therapy lens, the objective is not about whatever art form is presented–in this case, dance. The focus is the process, not product, and the experience, not education or training.


About the Author

Gail Gogliotti, LCPC, BC-DMT is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Gail works with adults and couples. Gail’s specialties include dance/movement therapy, body/mind integration, trauma, mood disorders, and stress management. If you are interested in working with Gail, send an email today!