Dancing for dementia

EMMA JACK knows firsthand the impact dementia can have on a family.

Her mother was only 58 when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The news was devastating and Jack, a keen dancer, began to look at ways she could communicate “non-verbally” with her mother as her speech deteriorated.

Jack discovered that Aussie ballet dancer Michelle Locke had developed a specific version of Wu Tao—a dance-based therapy similar to Tai Qi and yoga—for dementia sufferers.

Jack added some freestyle dance into the mix and came up with her own unique take that has worked wonders for patients and their family carers.

“People suffering from dementia and their carers come along to my free community workshops,” Jack says.

“The dance promotes a sort of deep listening between the two and helps them communicate in a natural way that transcends verbal communication.

“At the end of the session you can see everyone is more relaxed and they have managed  to break through the symptoms and connect in some way.

“That’s on top of the normal benefits you associate with gentle exercise and dance.”

The workshops have proved so successful that Amana Living has trialled Wu Tao classes in their aged care homes in Coobellup, BullCreek and Salter Point, bringing in Jack to run classes for low and high-care residents.

Emily Lees, Amana Living’s volunteer manager said: “We decided to introduce Wu Tao during the Amana Living Arts Festival to give seniors with dementia an opportunity to try something new. It was important to us that the festival was inclusive and provided artistic experiences for every one of our residents and clients. We met with Emma and her passion for connecting with people through dance shone through.

“We also know the positive impact music can have through our experiences with Tune into Life our music program for people living with dementia. It can calm and soothe, bring back memories, and help people to reconnect with loved ones.

“We’re going to review the festival feedback from our residents, clients and staff and will then make a decision about those sessions that we’ll introduce on a more regular basis.”

But the classes are not only for dementia sufferers and could help prevent the disease, according to scientists.

“Dancing dramatically reduces the occurrence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” a New England Journal of Medicine article says.

“[Freestyle movement] which requires constant split-second, rapid-fire decision making, which is the key to maintaining intelligence because it forces your brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways.”

Frequent freestyle dancing has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by 76 per cent, which is twice as much as reading.

A study by Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service, at Alzheimer’s Australia WA, found Wu Tao lowered resident agitation and reduced carer stress.

Jack says family carers are under a huge amount of strain and are often the unsung heros, with the role taking a huge toll on their mental and physical health.

“My vision is to provide creative and nurturing spaces for people with dementia and their carers to connect and enjoy life,” she says.

“As my mum’s early onset Alzheimer’s has developed, my heart has been opened to the rich world of non-verbal connection.”

For more information go to http://www.facebook.com/embodyWA

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