Memories may fade, but the recollections of music and dance lasts the longest.
That's the belief behind the “Joy through Dance” program being started by St. Barnabas Memory Care Services. It will try to bring some new steps to residents at St. Barnabas' Washington Place in Richland Township, Allegheny County.
Through a partnership with the Alzheimer's Association and the Pittsburgh Ballroom dance group, St. Barnabas Memory Care will launch three months of ballroom dancing lessons for residents.
Skilled ballroom dancers who have been trained in dealing with Alzheimer's and related dementias will lead residents through the steps of the tango, the rumba and the waltz, as well as other dances.
Pittsburgh Ballroom members were at Washington Place last week to introduce the program and demonstrate some of the dance moves the 13-week program will introduce. The program will end with a March 2 dance recital.
Midge Hobaugh, manager of St. Barnabas Memory Care Service, said the training allows the dancers to know what approach to take with residents who might be afraid of new faces or experiences or unable to process information as quickly as they once did.
“You have to adjust your approach so you can have maximum success with the other person,” said Hobaugh.
“The association offers various programs to help people interact with people with Alzheimer's either online or in person,” said Alyssa Marisco, marketing specialist for the Alzheimer's Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter.
The hope of the dance lessons is the movement and music will help the residents' mobility, aid in music recall, foster relationships and give a sense of purpose, according to Marisco.
Frank Glazer of Pittsburgh Ballroom said the Joy Through Dance program is an elaboration of an earlier “Music and Memory” program begun in Philadelphia where dementia patients were played music on a weekly basis.
“They found that listening to music changed dementia patients for the better — physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Glazer. “The changes were not long-term but lasted 24 to 48 hours.”
“We thought, 'Can we take that to the next step with dancing?'” said Glazer. “We are going to be playing the music and we are going to be dancing.”
During the demonstration for residents, their families and staff, couples from Pittsburgh Ballroom demonstrated the steps of the dances they will be teaching to up to 13 residents who sign up for the lessons.
Over the course of the lessons, dementia patients will be schooled in the fox trot, the samba and the cha-cha.
Hobaugh said demonstrations were to let residents know what to expect if they signed up for the dance lessons.
The sessions, beginning Monday, are one hour every Monday through March 2.
Hobaugh said, “These are just an hour long. We won't be working incredibly through the time frame, we're going to let the dementia residents guide us through this.
“This is all going to be patient-driven based on what they are able to do and what they are able to handle,” she said.
By pairing dancing with music, Hobaugh said, they hope to intensify the beneficial effects of the music.
“What's good for the body is good for the brain,” she said. “That's why we're pairing music with dancing.”
“People that are living with dementia, they remain multisensory beings just like you and I,” Hobaugh said. “They interpret speech and visuals, in this case music, sometimes differently from us.”
Glazer said, “With Alzheimer's patients, the music itself just stays with you. You hear a song and you remember where you heard it when you were 18. It is stronger than memories sparked by the sense of smell.”
Hobaugh added the Alzheimer's Association is a partner with St. Barnabas and the dance program is a naturally occurring opportunity in community education and support.
Hobaugh said, “Pittsburgh Ballroom also does outreach to the senior living communities with performances and trying to entice the younger people into the craft of dance.”
Hobaugh added that when Pittsburgh Ballroom approached St. Barnabas about instituting a dancing program, “We immediately said yes to the opportunity because there is some research that what they are finding with dance, there might be some real benefit cognitively.
Hobaugh and Marisco said the dance lessons aren't a cure for Alzheimer's or any other dementias.
Hobaugh said, “What we are anticipating to see is an increase in mobility, in rapport with another person and all of those things.”
“We are looking for some positive outcomes for sure,” she said.
Marisco said, “The Alzheimer's Association is part of this program. We can't wait to see where you are at the end of the program from where you began.”
At the very least, added Glazer, “I want them to move and physically dance.”