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Mexican dance for dementia


A popular dance from the streets of Mexico has been shown to improve the behaviour and mood of people with dementia.

Danzón, a simple-to-follow Latin ballroom style dance enjoyed in impromptu dances in Mexico has been brought to UK care homes by Dr Azucena Guzmán García, as part of her PhD research at Newcastle University.

Through short twice-weekly dance classes, residents were introduced to some simple steps allowing them to dance together to uplifting Danzón music.  Based on the psychomotor therapy approach, the lessons bring together cognitive, behavioural and emotional functions which aim to increase a person’s ability to process and perform dance movements and enjoy the music and the social interaction. Residents and staff were then interviewed about the effects of the dance sessions.

Publishing in the Dementia Journal of Social Science and Practice, Dr Guzmán García reveals how the dance she knows from growing up in Mexico is helping people with dementia. “While dancing is often considered entertainment in care homes, I believe that it can be useful practice,” explains Dr Guzmán García, who now works at the Dementia Research Centre, North East London NHS Foundation Trust.

“I found that these dance classes helped calm agitation and improved mood and quality of life for people with dementia. There are also obvious advantages in terms of physical fitness.

“I witnessed the joy people got from taking part in the dancing and for residents who were watching, the laughter and happy memories it generated.”

Originating in England in the 17th Century, the Danzon style was popular during Jane Austen’s era before being taken to France.  After that it cropped up in Haiti and eventually developed in Cuba. It still survives in Mexico where it can be seen enjoyed on the streets in impromptu dances especially by older adults.

Dr Guzmán García designed a programme with each dance session lasting approximately 30 minutes and involving a warm-up, Danzón practice, free-style dancing and a cool down. 

Importantly, staff at Tyneside care homes were trained to lead sessions so that the dancing could continue after the end of the study. They reported that the dancing was a form of mental stimulation and regardless of the residents’ level of dementia they were immersed in the activity.

"We could see how much people enjoyed the dancing"

Staff at Rosewood Villa Residential Home in Throckley, Newcastle, where the classes were trialled, said there had been a noticeable improvement in socialising and interaction, and that it gave family members a chance to join in.  Proprietor Mrs Mary Watson said: “We could see how much people enjoyed the dancing and it brought back some lovely memories which they were able to share with us of when they were younger.

“We found that the men wanted to join in with the dancing and this is important to us as it can be harder to find activities that they want to take part in. On the days when the dancing was on, the men made an effort to dress smartly and told us how they were looking forward to it which was really nice.”

Dr. Ian James, PhD supervisor and Head of Challenging Behaviour within the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust commented: “The Danzón activity was enjoyed by both the residents and staff and improved the communication between the two groups. Reductions in residents' agitation and apathy were also seen, which is noteworthy because often these conditions are treated with medications known to have highly problematic side-effects. Dr Guzman’s findings are clearly worthy of further research and replication on a larger scale”

Staff found that dancing improved the trust between residents and themselves, was a means for acceptable social touch and improved communication to the extent that staff were able to reduce a resident’s anxiety by having a “little Danzón dance in the corridor” outside the sessions.

Professor Martin Orrell, an expert in dementia care research at UCL's Mental Health Sciences Unit: “This important study shows that using dance in dementia care by combining both enjoyable music and physical activity may have benefits to both mood and physical wellbeing. There is an urgent need for further investment in this type of dementia care research.” 

This work supports the Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age, Newcastle University’s response to the societal challenge of Ageing, seeking new ways to make the most of the extensive opportunities associated with increasing human longevity, while at the same time solving some of the problems.

Dr Guzmán García now wants to see the study repeated on a bigger scale. She says: “I would encourage all care homes to consider structured and regular dance sessions because of the benefits it brings in terms of behaviour and social interaction which means it can be considered positive for dementia care.”

"It makes me feel happy"

Residents at Rosewood Villa Residential Home for the Elderly in Throckley, Newcastle enjoy their regular Danzón classes.

90-year-old Ada, a keen and nimble dancer, described the sessions: “It makes me feel happy. When you hear the music it makes you start to move and makes you feel good. It’s lovely, it makes you feel better and I look forward to the classes.”

Jack, 88, pictured above dancing with Hilda, explained: “It’s good to dance and join in. I danced years ago with my wife and being able to do it again is great.”

“I enjoy everything about the dancing", said Hilda, 91. "I was the youngest of a large family and most of us danced. I love dancing - I met my husband dancing and he was very good – it brings back happy memories.”

Danzón : the facts

Originating in England in the 17th Century (the style of the dancing that might feature in a Jane Austen novel) the dance was taken to France, then Haiti and eventually developed in Cuba. It still survives in Mexico where it can be seen enjoyed on the streets in impromptu dances especially by older adults.

Reference:  Azucena Guzmán-García, Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska and Ian James.  Introducing a Latin ballroom dance class to people with dementia living in care homes, benefits and concerns: A pilot study. Dementia 1471301211429753, doi:10.1177/1471301211429753


published on: 31 August 2012