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Seniors With Depression, Parkinson’s, And Dementia Benefit From Dance Therapy

I just turned 55 on my last birthday. Although some people consider 55 as the official age of becoming a senior, I have never allowed my age to deter me from participating in my hobby of tap and jazz dancing. As a senior living advisor, (and a former, part-time children’s dance teacher of 13 years, hobby only) I am also pleased to see so many of the senior communities offering dance therapy classes to their residents. I have also taught tap and ballet on a voluntary basis in some of the assisted living communities that specialize in dementia care and several senior centers. I was made aware that several of the participants also had Parkinson’s disease.

Exercise that is performed several times a week can help to elevate a person’s immune system and make them feel better about themselves. That is because of the endorphins that are released. The exercise classes provide camaraderie while encouraging seniors to move all of their body parts. If a person moves their limbs, it increases hand to eye coordination, strengthens the core, and helps balance.

I approached the classes as I would have at any other basic level. I included combinations and repetition to Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin songs. I found that most of my “students,” found ease in doing the tap warm ups, grape vines, and some jazz movements, even if they were confined to a wheel chair. Many of the participants said that their joints felt better, their overall movement improved, and most importantly their spirits had been lifted. After the class had finished, I always served them a snack and we’d talk for a while. Some of the residents with dementia would reminisce about where they used to go to dance with their spouses. One resident in particular spoke about a church in Evanston, Illinois that had a Scottish affiliation and offered Scottish dance lessons. She even went so far as to quote me the exact street address.The repetition of certain exercises helps people with Parkinson’s to concentrate on movements that have become difficult for them, such as doing two things at once. People who have suffered a stroke are able to express themselves by moving to the music even though they can’t talk. Sometimes peoples’ medications stop working for them and the classes give them relief from their symptoms.

Dance therapy actually started over 50 years ago when the classes were offered to psychiatric patients at St.Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. The National Academy Of Dance Therapists reports there are now more than 1,200 dance therapists in the country. However, not all of the classes are conducted by formally trained therapists, and some are not formally trained dancers.

There has been a significant amount of outreach to the professional dance companies to teach dance therapy classes, and some of them are jumping on board.

I work with a number of seniors who have been diagnosed with major depressive disorders.
Their biggest complaint to me is that anti-depressants don’t take away the pain of depression.They only lessen the symptoms. Nothing helps their depression more than conversation and socialization. I have been lucky enough to refer them to dance programs where they can exercise and socialize!

For all of your senior living options, contact Andrea Donovan of Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors.