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How can the non-verbal act of dance interact with the dementia experience?

Barbara Stephens provides insight into the Dance for Life programme, a joint venture between Dementia Pathfinders and Matthew Bourne's dance company.
Our partnership with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Dance Company is on a project called Dance for Life. So Dance for Life is a programme where we have provided professional dancers from Matthew Bourne’s company with training, dementia training, and then introduced those dancers to situations where they’re delivering dance interventions with people living with dementia. And those settings are many and varied. So the first programmes that we delivered were with two care homes– one care home where the people living with dementia were what we might call moderate, moderate dementia, so people who were still mostly mobile and people who maybe had some communication skills, verbal communications skills still.
In the other care home, which was contrasting, were people who were much later stage, people who were nearing the end of their life. Most of them were no longer mobile, and some had multiple conditions– other physical conditions as well as dementia. So that was our very first experiment with the programme, Dance for Life. And it was evaluated by an independent evaluator, and the benefits were remarkable. People who were perhaps withdrawn and uncommunicative and looking very diminished by their condition were opened up and expressed a lot of joy, connection with the dancers, with eye contact, with movement.
Some people became sad because, for whatever reason, the music may have touched a deep, sad feeling, but all of these sorts of manifestations were beneficial we felt. The improvements in well-being were astonishing. People sustained these improvements after a programme of eight weeks. So week on week on week people were learning dance moves. They were remembering some of the music that had been used in the previous weeks. One particular lady who started the programme at the beginning of the eight weeks in a wheelchair, by the end of the eight weeks, was on her feet using a Zimmer frame, but she was on her feet.
It was fantastic. It was just heartwarming to see the benefits for the people living with dementia. But over and above that, it was heartwarming to see the benefits for the dancers because they learned so much, and in the evaluation, were able to say just how their attitudes changed and how their understanding of dementia was enhanced by this experience. So it had benefits at lots of levels. It had benefits for the people who were living with dementia. It had benefits for family carers who were involved. It had benefits for staff in the care homes and benefits for the dancers. So everybody benefited from this remarkable programme.

Barbara Stephens provides insight into the Dance for Life programme, a joint venture between Dementia Pathfinders and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures & Re:Bourne dance company, that involved providing dementia training for professional dancers to deliver dance interventions for people living with dementias in care home settings.

You will hear about:

  • The effects of the programme on the people living with dementias who participated in the sessions

  • The sustained benefits of the programme

  • How the professional dancers responded to the programme

CREDITS FOR SUPPLEMENTARY IMAGES AND FOOTAGE ‘Dance for Life’ mini-documentary produced by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Dementia Pathfinders.
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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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