By Hollis Taylor
When we step into a new community, they often don’t know what is going to happen. People with dementia are confused at first but the cognitive folks might try to guess what is about to happen. I know from my experience as an activity director that Let’s Dance is something they have never seen before. Residents will ask if I am the ‘dancer’ as they expect to see a dance performance. I usually smile and agree, sometimes I might explain that ‘we are all going to dance!’ while other times I save it for the moment. I wonder, should we really call it ‘Let’s Dance’ – is that appropriate at this point? We entertain people with dementia and others with special needs, yes, and we also offer validation, comfort, inspiration, love, and HUGS!
This reminds me of why we call it Let’s Dance. I had spent an entire month experimenting with Bright Hawk, playing handpan live with memory care residents in several unknown communities. I wanted to see what would happen if we visited communities that had people that DID NOT know me as their CNA, Certified Nursing Assistant, or Activity Director. The communities responded better than I had ever imagined and we decided it was time to see if we could do something with this. Remotely we worked on brochures and ways to reach out to communities that might want us to visit. We had to come up with a name. I had worked one of my last few double shifts at this nursing home before I move to Colorado to work on growing this amazing idea for memory care residents. I did ‘my thing’ with them in a circle that morning between breakfast and lunch, took a break and now I was on the elevator headed back to be present with the same group before dinner.
I was excited for my future, excited about the ideas about the new program and I was pondering what we might call this program. We needed a brochure to send communities in Colorado since I was moving there. I had been wanting to move west for most of my adult life and now it was time. As I stepped off the elevator I stepped forward and one of my favorite residents was at the door to greet me, Margaret. She wandered a lot, would move things around in people’s rooms, remake beds and generally kept busy. I have a theory that some people are very used to exercising and when they begin to fall deeper into dementia, they seem to wander a lot. I think it is because they need exercise and likely most doctors would agree, at the very least they need more exercise. She was such a mover and it was hard to convince her she needed to go to the bathroom or change her brief. One of the first things that is affected by dementia is the ability to smell, and Margaret surely suffered in this way. The regular CNAs knew that it was best to catch her already in her room and then offer her the underclothing while she was on the toilet, otherwise she might just deck you. We knew it was best to suggest that she might want to use the bathroom and hope she could piece together your words. We want to respect them yet we want to be sure they are well cared for, its a delicate balance as a caregiver. It’s why training to work with people with dementia is essential.
As I stepped towards Margaret who is now smiling very big at me. She really had learned to trust me in these last few weeks, since I had been doing dancing and movement with the group. In the past few weeks she would wander into the circle, we would dance, laugh and sing. Her words didn’t always make sense but she really loved to move her body. I could tell she LOVED dancing, likely when she was much younger. She would get me doing the jitterbug, the twist and all sorts of dancing. She really LOVED to dance. It seemed to me that the dancing helped her ‘awake’ in a way that she really enjoyed and often it meant that taking her to the toilet later would be easier. A few times her CNA would offer her a walk to the toilet after she had danced with me and both of us were surprised when she would agree and go along with the whole thing, even changing her brief. We knew she couldn’t smell it, but if we got her on the toilet she would look down and see it. Then she would be willing to change her pants and even eager to do it on her own.
I am not sure WHY the dancing helped, other than in simple terms we know exercise has a multitude of effects on the body. We knew it improves mood, relieves depression, boosts bodily functions along with another very long list of benefits. For her, it was just fun dancing around with someone. Connecting and being together. Every day she stepped into the circle I would put out my hands and offer “Let’s Dance” even if she had just danced with me five minutes ago. I knew it was hard for her to remember what just happened a few minutes ago, so each time I would approach as if it was the first.
THIS TIME though she stepped forward towards me as I stepped off the elevator towards her. Her face is smiling and she is very glad to have found me, I can see the relief let go in her shoulders. She meets my eyes with a gleeful almost childlike greeting, takes my hands and eagerly says, “Let’s Dance!” We danced in front of the elevator and the nurses station for several minutes. In this moment I knew that the name had to be “Let’s Dance!”
Let’s Dance get residents “Up & Dancing”, we know that! We know that music and exercise are really good for people with dementia, it seems to light them up! We also believe that connection with others goes much deeper than science may truly understand, all of us seem to know this. Let’s Dance brings HUGS and connection through the form of DANCING! Also, did you know that people with dementia are MUCH better at dancing than walking! When you watch them dance you can see the reminiscing, the awakening in their eyes and gleeful smiles seem to emerge from sleep. Activity Directors and family members are often moved to see their loved ones smiling, dancing and having a great time. Even just witnessing a Let’s Dance program can open the heart of a loving son or lonely spouse, and suddenly they’re dancing together. Dance brings people together in a special way.
We are continuously appealing to Ellen DeGeneres as well as other potential sponsors. If YOU have experienced a Let’s Dance program that YOU would be willing to nominate us to be on the Ellen show. You can do that HERE. We also encourage any other connections or nominations as we are working hard to get the word out to people about what we have here. We know that if you have witnessed the power of a Let’s Dance Program that you will not hesitate to share your experience with any potential connections. Please Remember us in those moments!
Let’s Dance needs a sponsor and would LOVE to be part of some research about dementia, music and dancing and maybe even human connection. We have surveyed Activities Directors and would love to have you fill out our survey. We are calling on YOU to help us connect with those people. We need corporate sponsors to help Let’s Dance grow, you can read more about where we want to go right here. We are officially a 501c3 and excited to find the perfect sponsors. If you can help please email us at [email protected]
If you want us to visit your community, and you’re in the WESTERN United States be sure to check our schedule. We are honored to visit communities in Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, and New Mexico. We are scheduling out till March 2020, right now! Be sure to schedule a visit for your community!