Rhythm Beats Dementia Blues
Technique to connect with
people with advanced dementia
Activating voice, body, and soul.
Sitdance is dance sitting down. It differs from chair exercises as it is a cultural activity with meaningful movements that allow for emotional expression, and social interaction, plus all the benefits of exercise. It often uses familiar songs that invite participants to sing along and become the memory support for the expressive choreography. Sitdance activates, voice, body, and soul.
Appropriate Dance Education:
Everybody is entitled to appropriate dance education suited to their level of comprehension. That is why dances are properly taught and in subtle stages, so those living with memory loss or cognitive decline have an opportunity to learn.
There is nothing random about Sitdance. Every dance is different. Movements are either related to the music, the original dance, the lyrics, a story, or serve to mobilise a part of the body, designed to maintain and improve brain function, orientation, and coordination. They are designed for those living with an ageing body, memory loss, and cognitive decline.
Exercise may be good for you, but even when done to music, it remains a robotic activity. Attach a story/meaning
to the choreography and it becomes dance: expression to music. Dance is a cultural activity, one that makes use feel human again, a feeling often diminished when a person is institutionalised. The only dance that has a strong
exercise focus, is the Warming-up dance, as it is designed to activate all body parts that will be engaged during the dances that will follow. It also shifts the individual and group energy from passive to active.
Filmed in the Outback of Australia
Suitable for people with early to moderate memory loss
1 course, 4 sessions, 7 dances.
Sitdance Downunder Course trailer.
Dance to Remember
Filmed throughout Australia
Suitable for people with moderate to advanced memory loss
1 course, 4 sessions, 8 dances.
Dance to Remember Course trailer.
Both Sitdance programmes are available as Streaming Licences and DVDs.
A variety of streaming licence options are available here.
Starting from $4.99.
Order through this site. You will receive an invoice for payment.
1 programme $70 + shipping order here.
2 programmes $120 + shipping order here.
Structure & Concept
A tutorial + dance make a dance.
A series of dances make a session.
A series of sessions make a course.
A dance consists of a tutorial without music in which the dance is taught, followed by the dance to music with voice over cues.
A series of dances make a session. Each session begins with the same Warming-up dance. This creates a familiar starting point for all sessions.The Warming-up dance is irresistible and will get everyone going. It is so effective that it has remained the unchanged since 1988!
A series of sessions make a course. Dances progress from session to session. 'Full tutorials' (in which all moves are explained) progress to 'quick reviews' (a quick reminder awakening the muscle memory). Dances (with voice over instructions) progress to dances with only the most essential cues, allowing the music or lyrics to guide.
All dances are filmed on outdoor locations, relevant to the theme of the course, or the country of origin of the music. There are currently 2 themed courses available.
'Memory loss' and 'learning' sound incompatible, but not when the learning process is supported by an appropriate pedagogy. Sitdance believes that everybody has the right to quality education. With this in mind a unique pedagogy has been developed that will give people with memory loss the opportunity to learn dances effortlessly.
Creator Marcel Baaijens has first hand experience of (temporary) memory loss due to severe mercury poisoning. He also has extensive experience teaching art to people with cognitive impairments. These experiences have informed the Sitdance pedagogy he developed.
If participants struggle to learn, it can affect their confidence, their self-esteem, and their ability to do it as good as they possibly can. It may cause they to stop showing up for the activity.
Progressions from one session to the next are subtle and hardly noticed. Staff may think one session is the same as the one before, but they are not. The progressions are so subtle that participants will barely notice them, and that is the whole idea! Learning a new dance effortlessly will strengthen confidence and self-esteem.
The Sitdance pedagogy gradually transfers the reliance on verbal instructions to the music or lyrics in 3 steps:
Tutorials fully explain and show the dance moves without music, dance moves are stored in both brain and cellular or muscle memory
Tutorials progress to 'quick reviews', to re-awaken the cellular memory without the need for full tutorials
If a dance comes initially with full memory support as voice-over instructions naming individual moves, it will also progress to just occasional, yet essential cues.
Sitdance is a social, fun, and cultural activity with many physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual benefits. Some benefits will be evident after a first session, some over time after a number of regular sessions.
The prime benefit is of dance is the self-expression to music. It makes one feel human and whole again. When that feeling is lacking it has a profound impact on the holistic well-being of a person.
The second benefit is that doing an activity that involves, music, singing and dancing synchronises participants heart beat, it harmonises (research done by the BBC). Participants will most likely not be conscious about this benefit, but may feel an increased sense of connection with others in the group. When one is institutionalised, one feels alienated, an activity like Sitdance contributes to a group spirit and a sense of belonging.
Then there are the usual benefits when activating one's body, and voice. Using songs has the added benefits that participants can sing along and that the lyrics (already present in the memory), will act as a memory support.
Sasha-Beth Wong (BSc hons Applied Sport Science) from the University of Edinburgh conducted independent research in 2013. Her findings support the use of Sitdance as an effective form of physical activity.
"Improves fitness and moods."
Her research found that it is of sufficient exercise intensity to induce improvements in physical fitness and mood in healthy older adults. Sitdance was found to be of significantly higher intensity than sedentary activity and of non-significantly lower intensity than standing forms of exercise.
"As effective as standing exercise."
These findings mean that one should encourage healthy older adults to participate in regular physical activity and to not be discouraged if they are unable or afraid of standing. A lack of participation in physical activity can cause many problems. Physical activities such as Sitdance, should be encouraged, as they may prevent many such problems from arising.
"They may dislike exercise but love to dance."
Sitdance is a valid substitute for traditional forms of exercise, especially for those that do not enjoy ‘exercise’, or lack the confidence and/or ability for such movements or have a fear of falling. It is wonderful to have this independent research confirm that Sitdance is a beneficial activity. Many thanks to Sasha-Beth Wong (BSc hons Applied Sport Science) from the University of Edinburgh for allowing Sitdance to use her research findings.
Please call the Sitdance programme what it is: a dance programme, which is different and much more that an exercise programme.
If possible arrange participants in a semi circle facing the screen. This way they can see each other. Dance is a social event. The ability to make eye contact and see others having a good time will increase participation levels.
Should residents struggle following a person on a screen, arrange a reversed session set up: a staff member (model) faces and copies the on-screen action, and residents face the instructor, but not the screen. Use live sound+instructions from screen, instructor should remain silent and only model the actions, as not to compete with the video instructions.
Spread staff evenly among the residents. Good role models will encourage participation.
Do not allow non-participants to just watch from the sideline. It is not a show. It can trigger self-consciousness in participants and cause them to stop.
Always aim for 100% engagement from a participant. For some that may be 'being present', for others 'singing along'. Sometimes holding a hand of a non-participating resident can encourage them to join in. Start gently by taping a rhythm on their hand, and see if they respond, if so, see if you are allowed do more, like moving their arms.
Those that are weak or inclined not to participate, place a support person next to them. Start with just holding a hand and gently move it up and down or in a gentle swinging motion to the rhythm of the music. Often that is all they need to get going. With time they may initiate participation by themselves. Sense what their mobility range may be, do not force anything beyond their comfort zone.
Refrain from repeating the video voice-over instruction. Most likely you will be just a fraction later and will cause confusion for participant about which voice they need to listen. In the end dance is moving to music, rather than a voice instruction.
Participants with reduced brain functioning can still learn kinesthetically, more words often do not help. Show, or let them feel the movement, rather than tell. This is often more effective. You can show by starting simply with holding hands and move to the rhythm of the music before getting into any part of the choreography. Adapt and simplify movements when needed, so everybody can participate within their range of abilities, but stick to the pace or rhythm.
When supporting a participant physically, always start subtly to get a sense what a person is capable of. It is better to do little than nothing at all, or too much. If it causes pain of fatigue they may choose to opt out next time.
If a participant does not want to move at all, you can still make a physical connection by just resting your hand on theirs. Their dominant hand will be most used to touch, and thus most receptive. Always ask permission, either verbally or non-verbally (gently test if they respond positive to touch, check their facial expression for non-verbal communication). You can then progress to gently tapping the rhythm on their hand. That way they are physically experiencing the music at a physical level.
Dance brings joy, so remember to have a ball !
The Story of Sitdance
It all began in 1988. Marcel Baaijens had just emigrated from The `Netherlands to New Zealand and was keen to start working as a (folk) dance teacher. He had taught folk dancing to retirees in the Netherlands, and wanted to do so again in New Zealand. Thanks to his blissful ignorance he confused a resthome (the New Zealand term for a nursing home) with a retirement setting. He called every rest home in the city of Wellington. They all proclaimed that their residents could not dance anymore, except one! Woburn Presbytarian Home, in Woburn, Lower Hutt invited him to do a trail session. So, he set off with great enthusiasm and his 'ghetto blaster'.
Marcel in action at Woburn Presbyterian Home in 1988.
Photo by Rob van Boxtel, a friend visiting from Holland.
The residents proved to be a lot less agile and mobile than the ones he worked with in The Netherlands. However the residents survived the hour long dance session, but not only that, they absolutely loved in. One 95 year old resident said afterwards:
"I am a teacher and I think that you are a very good teacher. I have been here 5 years and I have never seen so many people smile at the same time as today!"
The activities staff loved it too, and wanted him to come back. Marcel was keen, but he also realised that the 'programme for the elderly' he knew was not suitable at all for a rest home setting. He had heard of 'sit dancing', but there was no existing programme he could learn and implement, so he set out to develop a Sitdance programme, and it became a hit. The success of his work spread quickly and within 2 months he was teaching in 6 homes.
Six months later he organised an 'afternoon tea dance' at a local hall, as he wanted all the rest home residents to dance together and realise that a Sitdance movement was developing in the Wellington area. Television New Zealand was tipped off and decided to film the event. It featured in 1989 on the popular prime time show: The Holmes Show. The 4 minute item created a national storm of interest as there was nothing of its kind in New Zealand. Even the homes that said that their residents could not dance, wanted to have Sitdance at their facility.
During the years that followed, Marcel trained activities staff, physiotherapists, and volunteers in Sitdance. Together with Video based resources he empowered them to implement Sitdance. After 5 years, practically the whole of New Zealand was using Sitdance.
A 4-minute TV item about Sitdance from the Holmes Show, TVNZ, in 1989.
Rhythm Beats Dementia Blues
Connect through rhythm when words have gone.
A simple, but effective method to connect with people with dementia
who have lost linguistic abilities to communicate.
Simple hand dances to songs they know can establish a connection
through rhythm, touch, body language, and lyrics.
A short demo of the RBDB technique.
The story of a forgotten resident.
Mrs. E. Lives with advanced dementia and is no longer able to communicate verbally. Her family does not visit anymore, so the staff suggested I do a Rhythm Beats Dementia Blues session with her. I started off very gently.
During that session Mrs. E. progressed within ten minutes from small subtle moves to the music to moving her arms almost to shoulder level. After I said my goodbyes I walked away.
The diversional therapist, who was watching from a distance, later told me that Mrs. E. waved me goodbye behind my back, something she had not done in months.
No need to gently introduce Mrs. E. to the session. She got right into it from the first few bars of music. She remembered!!
This time I used music with a variety of speeds and meters, both known and unknown. She responded to all of them, kept time, and moved her arms to the rhythm and melody, while her hands were resting in mine. I only supported her hands as she was weak, but I did not need to guide her.
To my surprise we danced for 30 minutes. She non-verbally lindicated that she enjoyed our interaction. I enjoyed it too. It was a real privilege to interact with her.
This week the care facility manager wanted me to do a Sitdance session for all the residents again.
Staff never bothered to bring her to the dancehall. for previous sessions. This time I made sure Mrs. E. was included.
I could not work one-on-one with her during that session, but I could tell from her facial expression that she enjoyed the music very much.
Never underestimate what goes on inside a non-verbal person living with advanced dementia. Just because brain function renders them uncommunicative does not mean that their spirit is no longer present. They are still entitled to meaningful human and cultural interactions.
For those who can no longer follow TV.
At a certain point commercial TV and mainstream video content is no longer appropriate content for people with advanced memory loss. They seem to fall asleep in front of the TV, but it may very well be their only way to escape the overload of information through words, texts, image changes, and sound levels.
Slow Shows are the solution. They follow a researched best practice to create content than not only entertains, but also gives viewers an opportunity to reminisce, process thoughts and emotions. Show Shows consist of slow moving images (video or slides), soundscapes, and music. They take viewers on a visual and auditory journey through space and time at a pace they can comprehend.
Slow Shows are themed, and may have a variety of chapters within a theme. They vary in duration. Some themes may expand the context of certain Sitdances, allowing activities staff and carers to present a comprehensive programme.
Streaming Licences available here.