Too often, stereotypes and prejudices reduce the identities and experiences of people living with dementia. Let’s challenge dementia-related stigma through dance.
What comes to mind when you think about someone living with dementia?
If your thoughts focus exclusively on the disease, you are not alone. The negative attributes of dementia are so stigmatized in society that often, when considering a person living with dementia, we think of everything but the person.
Stereotypes, prejudice, and discriminatory practices lead to social exclusion and can compromise the health, well-being and quality of life of someone living with dementia (Burgener, Buckwalter, Perkhounkova, & Liu, 2015; Garand, Lingler, Conner, & Dew, 2009). So strong is the hold of the dementia stigma that it defines how we see the person living with it.
Engagement in the arts, and dance in particular, is one way to re-centre our focus around the person. Participation in dance has the potential to counter stigma by “highlighting people as individuals with complex lives that exceed the narrow description of diagnosis” (Corrigan, 2007, p. 36).
Research on aging and brain health finds that dance offers a unique combination of physical, mental, and social benefits for older adults. Dance may be socially and emotionally beneficial by reducing isolation, creating a sense of community, and providing space for creativity and artistic expression. Through creative movement, people living with dementia demonstrate resilience with embodied, playful and imaginative engagement.
Dance can be a powerful component of dementia-friendly communities and can play a significant role in changing the culture of care for people living with dementia.
The Impact of Dance
Flourishing through creativity, imagination, and fun!
“I didn’t know she could move like that (…) I didn’t know he loved to dance.”
It’s not unusual for feedback from Sharing Dance Older Adults to include comments along these lines, especially from carers of people living with dementia. So often we notice what someone with dementia can’t do, but Sharing Dance helps to focus on what can be achieved. The music in the classes often inspires participants to start dancing, and the narratives offer opportunity to express themselves creatively. There is so much to be said with dance that extends beyond the words of spoken language.
Dr. Rachel Bar, Director of Research and Health at Canada’s National Ballet School, shares her excitement about how carers for people living with dementia can use dance daily to inspire joyful and fun moments . For her, it’s “infusing a culture of dance while caring for our community (of people living with dementia)....It’s a joy to explore movement with dancers living with dementia and experience all the beauty and creativity expressed!”
Creating community and connections
In a project studying Sharing Dance Older Adults, researchers found that dance encouraged connectivity between participants and their communities. In one example of the Commute to Work Dance, in which participants are imagining they are using some mode of transportation to travel to work, the following was observed: A family carer turns to his wife, who is a resident participant and, as they circle their hands around each other mimicking cycling, he says to her, “I got in an accident on my bicycle.” He laughs and leans in to her. She responds, “Oh we’re going really fast now” and they both laugh. She says “wooo!” and laughs as her husband speeds up his cycling motions.
The playful and imaginative nature of how persons living with dementia engage with dance challenges the stigma associated with dementia and supports social inclusion. This underscores the urgent need to make dance programs more widely accessible to persons living with dementia everywhere.
Resources: Learn more about how dance can challenge stigma associated with dementia
Download a series of engaging posters that share the power of dance for people living with dementia. The posters are printable and ready to be shared in your community space! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
if you are interested in having a professionally printed version of the posters mailed to you—we'd love to hear how you are sharing this campaign!
Dancing with Dementia
In 2017-2021, Trent University and Brandon University led a research project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Alzheimer Society of Canada and the Canada Research Chairs Program. The overall goal of this study was to investigate the potential to improve social inclusion of people living with dementia and their carers through the expansion of the Baycrest NBS Sharing Dance Older Adults program. The following abstract from Dancing With Dementia, published in Fall 2020 in The Gerontologist, highlights how Sharing Dance Older Adults fosters playfulness and sociability for people living with dementia.
Read the article in The Gerontologist
More from the Trent University and Brandon University research project
You can also explore more of the findings from this exciting research on the project's website. The study examines the potential of dance to improve social inclusion for people living with dementia and carers. Research suggests that arts-based programs can improve the health of people living with dementia and carers; however, little is known about how these programs might address barriers to social inclusion. Addressing barriers requires the development and evaluation of accessible, non-stigmatizing and affordable programs that facilitate social inclusion across the continuum of institutional, community and household care settings.
Explore the project's website
Dementia Dialogue podcast
Dr. Rachel Bar joins as a guest to speak with Lisa Loiselle about dance and movement for those living with dementia. Rachel speaks about her lifelong involvement in dance and as a professional ballet dancer, and how that took her down an academic path researching how dance affects the brain. That subsequently brought her to working with older adults and people living with dementia, artistically and through program development.
Listen to podcast
Dancer not Dementia Survey
We would love to hear how this information has informed your perspective of people living with dementia. Please let us know by completing the following survey.
Take Part in the Survey
Public Health Agency of Canada Supports Canada’s National Ballet School’s Project to Challenge Dementia-Related Stigma Through Dance
Read full press release