General Dance Discussion > Dementia at the Studio

Discussion in 'General Dance Discussion' started by nessundorma, Jul 11, 2017.

  1. nessundorma

    nessundorma New Member

    Hi, folks! I would so appreciate any practical perspective or anecdotes or advice you might have on this topic.

    My studio strives to create a safe and supportive learning community for everyone, as it should, and a number of people with some form of dementia are regulars there. I know I've seen articles on the cognitive benefits of dance for people with or at risk of dementia (and Parkinson's and so on) posted on danceforums, and it's amazing stuff. I would LOVE to see patients have access to the benefits of dance, and thankfully more and more seem to be seeking it out.

    Practically, though, I'm not sure how best to handle the unique needs of some people. I absolutely do not want to stigmatize anyone.

    One incredibly sweet man with Alzheimer's attends the weekly social dance with his wife, whom I adore. They are both assets to our little community, and I hope to see them there for as long as they are able to attend. I really wonder how we as a community could do a better job of supporting both the husband and the wife.

    Two ladies, both widowed, also seem to have some sort of cognitive difficulty, although I'm not sure of any diagnosis. They both exhibit occasional aggressiveness, although it manifests in different ways. One is especially hostile to new leaders, probably due to her increasing balance problems and fear of falling. The new leaders especially have a hard time understanding that her anger is not about them. The other lady is generally sweet except in moments of frustration or confusion, which are increasingly common and require copious amounts of reassurance from the instructor. Unfortunately, she recently took her frustration out on me with a good, hard shove in the back, and I worry she will do this to other women.

    Another man with dementia attended group class with his wife for a while, but he was truly unable to step through a basic waltz box even after lots of one-on-one help from the instructor. They eventually gave up in frustration, and I can't help but feel as though some of the therapeutic effects may have been over-promised. If any instructors out there have any tips on HOW to help people in his situation, I'm sure our overworked and well-meaning instructor would love to hear them.

    My apologies for the long post. If, by some chance, you have stories of your own, they would be so appreciated. And if you have any words of wisdom or advice, I am doubly thankful!
  2. SwingingAlong

    SwingingAlong Well-Known Member

    I will be very interested to see what responses we get:)
  3. DL

    DL Well-Known Member

    Dancing ought not to be thought of as generally suitable therapy in the face of arbitrary clinical need. It may have various therapeutic effects, but at the same time dance pros are not health care workers (and nor are group classmates, and nor -- for purposes of this point -- are fellow social dancers).
    flying_backwards, IndyLady and Loki like this.
  4. snapdancer

    snapdancer Well-Known Member

    I believe that the notion is that dancing may delay the onset of dementia and other mental decline since dancing is as much mental exercise as physical. But I agree with DL that this is not absolute nor would I expect it to reverse a decline. If the have declined so much that she assaulted you then I think it's time to put an end to it.
    nessundorma likes this.
  5. sbrnsmith

    sbrnsmith Well-Known Member

    Dementia is not what most people think it is- sweet little old lady who does not remember anything from recent events- in realty dementia is a progressive decline of mental faculties- some patients have behavioral issues, aggression etc. we see patients sometimes attempt to hit or bite nursing staff and physicians.... they have personality changes. It's not a benign disease. Physical and mental activities such as dance may hep slow the progression. However, it's too simplistic to assume that it's all going to help. Keep in mind that we don't even really have effective medications for dementia... so, keep in mind that dance instructors are not health professionals and should not be expected to act as one
  6. Loki

    Loki Well-Known Member

    While I certainly sympathize with ppl dealing with physical or cognitive impairments, if they become violent or threatening, they need to go somewhere with trained healthcare pros who can deal with their outbursts.
    IndyLady likes this.
  7. IndyLady

    IndyLady Well-Known Member

    This is not a world I'm familiar with so I don't have much helpful advice, but one consideration is whether the other students at the studio are aware of the dementia, and how/whether to accomplish this without being patronizing or condescending about it. Embarrassing as this is, if a leader was unkind or aggressive to me, it probably wouldn't occur to me that dementia might be a factor, I would tend to just assume he's a jerk and avoid him in the future. It's easier to be compassionate and understanding if you know what's going on.
    FancyFeet, nessundorma and raindance like this.
  8. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    Many years ago, I taught, on 3 separate occasions, young adults and mature ones, with Downs syndrome. All were taught in a group setting .As I recall,, just teaching a simple Box step,( in Waltz with no technique ) was attainable by some.
    I also did a Waltz formation with 6 couples of youn adults who were mildly affected.

    Locations.. Phoenix, Boston and OK city..The key, for me, is simplicity..
    RiseNFall likes this.
  9. raindance

    raindance Well-Known Member

    If you talk to the spouses and/or caregivers you may get some insights and tips on how best to handle certain situations for the particular individuals you are encountering. I'm hoping these folks aren't attending alone, particularly if they would need to drive to get there. I do think if aggression is an issue you need to consider everyone's safety.

    It isn't appropriate in general for someone with aggressive outbursts to be part of group classes or the types of social events where they will be mixing with other people that aren't aware of what they are getting into. (It's different if everyone knows what to expect and if outbursts are mild, etc, so depends on the situation.)

    I'm only a student, but I agree with the others posting above the the dance teacher shouldn't try to be a therapist. Being inclusive where it is practical, and/or working one on one within their limitations may in fact have some benefits for them, though, which is a good thing. (Similar in some ways to the idea that while exercise is good for people's health, that doesn't make their trainer at the gym a doctor or physical therapist.)

    I think it's great that you are willing to try to be inclusive where possible and practical. Dementia can be isolating for the patient and their caregivers.
    nessundorma likes this.
  10. dncergrl2

    dncergrl2 Member

    I have a bit of knowledge in this area, albeit with kids, not adults. In a perfect world, a person with neurological challenges would best benefit from an environment that is not overstimulating and which is predictable and repetitive. I think a typical social dance or class would be overwhelming for this population and that is probably the source of the aggression. A dedicated, small class or party with fewer people, and with a physiotherapist with knowledge of gerontology to assist might work. Having fewer dances with slower music that repeats might also reduce anxiety. Be aware of any competing sensory stimulation (rotating mirror balls, strobe lights, phones ringing, etc.) Having some sort of ratio of typical to challenged people would provide for integration, and also support. Retired therapists might actually be interested in helping to develop a class like this. This sort of class would also be good for people with hearing or vision issues and even knee replacements, I guess, Naming the class/party something that is not so "disabled" is also a good idea. "Still dancing' party". BTW, I see lots of outbursts in the "typical" population in our studio under some circumstances. lol
  11. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    I have danced with a couple of leaders with neurological impairments, but I knew what I was choosing to do. One was a regular at studio parties for a year or so, but he wasn't hazardous to dance with. Certain amount of back leading involved, at at least "filling in" when a figure wasn't fully lead. The other was at our table at a fund raising dinner dance and I danced with him quite a bit. He had danced so much in his youth that he was still quite good. I was video taped dancing with him and appeared on a local newscast. :eek: At any rate, no aggression and I was aware of the situation. Not sure how a studio should handle it, but some of the situations described in the original post don't seem safe.
    nessundorma likes this.
  12. anntennis

    anntennis Active Member

    I think that classes for people with dementia should be part of some special education class, part of occupational therapy or trained facility, but not be a part of a mixed group class in the regular dance studio. Other group class students should not be exposed to sick people in the class, they won't enjoy dancing in such conditions, actually it is putting instructor and all participants in danger of some kind. Of course , if instructor is risking private lessons with dementia patients, that is completely up to him/her
    nessundorma likes this.
  13. nessundorma

    nessundorma New Member

    Thank you all for your considered, thoughtful responses on a topic that probably isn't the most pleasant. There is so much gray and variation in the possible scenarios that I struggle to develop a coherent way of approaching the topic, and it is very clarifying to see written responses from people who are more removed from the situations. I imagine some outside perspective would also be helpful for our instructor, and others like him, whose position I do not envy. In some cases these are longstanding relationships with very good clients for whom dancing has been an integral part of their lives and daily routine. That's a tough call, and I'm thankful that it's not mine to make. But you make excellent points about distinguishing between private lessons and group activities and about the fact that dance instructors are not caregivers or health professionals or therapists. That's something that, at least around here, needs to become a common part of the discourse. It would be lovely to see separate dance events for those who would benefit from a more soothing environment, but we haven't yet reached critical mass there yet. In time, as students age and others look for dance-based activities, that may become a really attractive solution.

    On my end (of limited helpfulness), you are so right, IndyLady, that it's helpful for others to have some idea of what's going on--not that I'm suited to diagnose anyone, but a heads-up seems to be appreciated. And, Raindance, I'm afraid some are driving! There seem to be varying degrees of understanding/denial among the families, and it's really the situations where the family is aware, supportive and open to communication that have worked out the best.
    IndyLady likes this.
  14. Retrocat1942

    Retrocat1942 New Member

    I work in healthcare and this is DEFINITLEY always a grey area. Although I agree with what everyone has said regarding the prevention of harm to others as being of priority I am also sure that many of your clients would say your class/social is the highlight of their week and the getting 'out there" socialising and partaking in normal activities of daily living would be hugely beneficial for them as indeed it is for us all. There is not an easy answer. Perhaps another suggestion could be that those clients who pose most risk could be asked to come with a suitable partner/support person who knows them well (Friend/spouse/sibling)and can be responsible for diffusing any situations before they arise, "monitoring" the environment and providing a constant source of comfort. Also ensuring that if they start to show signs of agitation they can be removed to a quieter area of the dance floor until they have regained their composure. Not always an easy situation in ballroom dancing! This then takes the responsibility off the instructor and gives him/her less liability for any situation that may arise. How you broach this with the students concerned though is a whole other kettle of fish, although ensuring both you and they have a support person present and compassion and gentle honesty are always good places to start. If it is a obvious enough problem at a dancing class I am sure it would not be a surprise to the family.

    Regarding the gentleman who gave up in frustration - maybe just altering goals from what we consider the "norm" would be enough - dancing is wonderful! Rather than focusing on "teaching the waltz" or any set step just work with what he can do - moving to the music and have a jolly ol' time!!
    Keep doing what your doing! Its great to know people are so supportive.
    nessundorma and flying_backwards like this.

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