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Friday 19 October 2018

They've got rhythm, they've got music and this lets them move away from dementia

MOVING EXPERIENCE: Peggy enjoying the dance and movement class at Saint Joseph’s Shankill for people living with dementia, with dance choreographer Robert Connor. Photos: Mark Condren
MOVING EXPERIENCE: Peggy enjoying the dance and movement class at Saint Joseph’s Shankill for people living with dementia, with dance choreographer Robert Connor. Photos: Mark Condren

Alan O'Keeffe

Dementia doesn't matter too much when you're dancing.

That's the way it feels when music fills a room in south county Dublin where men and women are moving to the rhythm. It's dance class time at Ireland's only facility that specialises solely in dementia care.

"If they're not having fun then it is not working," said dance teacher Robert Connor at Saint Joseph's in Shankill.

"Having a moment where their focus is on what they are able to do brings some joy and fun into their day."

Saint Joseph's welcomes 25 day-care visitors who have dementia and is home to 58 residents with dementia. The dance and movement classes are a new initiative funded by the HSE Lottery Fund.

Peggy travels from Greystones in County Wicklow to take part. She moved easily on the dance floor with the visiting teacher as she responded to the rhythms of Stand By Me.

MOVING EXPERIENCE: Siobhan Grant gets the group on the dance floor Photos: Mark Condren
MOVING EXPERIENCE: Siobhan Grant gets the group on the dance floor Photos: Mark Condren

She said the classes were "fantastic".

Robert has worked as a choreographer, educator, and dancer since moving to Ireland from the US in 1980. He and his partner, Loretta Yurick, founded the Dance Theatre of Ireland.

"Moving to music brings people out of themselves and it triggers different centres of the brain all at once," he said. "It also helps them to connect with themselves and with others."

Pete (79), a retired engineer, is a regular in day care. His wife, Joan, who arrived to drive him home to Bray, first joined him on the dancefloor. "Pete and I always loved to dance. We used to dance together in the Arcadia in Bray. It's fantastic here for him and the staff are so kind," she said.

Reg (82) always liked dancing. He took a full part in the dance and movement class. His wife, June, arrived to take him home to Dun Laoghaire. She was delighted he was taking part. "At first I had difficulty getting him to go. But the staff won him over," she said.

Siobhan Grant, a nurse who became fundraising manager at Saint Joseph's, said: "We have changed our culture of care. We changed from a medical model of care to a social model of care. Just because you have dementia should not mean that you shouldn't feel loved.

"Dancing with someone else creates a sense of belonging and intimacy.

"If we can make a person feel that they matter in this moment, they will feel happy and bring that feeling to the next moment. It's brilliant," she said.

St Joseph's is part of the Saint John of God hospital group. St Joseph's changed from a traditional nursing home with different wings to a place that is divided into six homely lodges. This allows those with the same levels of dementia to live together in family-style homely units. It gives residents a feeling of inclusion.

"We've gone from 98pc of people being on psycho-tropic medication to around 23pc of people on it," said Ms Grant. She said individuals, groups, or businesses were welcome to sponsor activities.

The number of people in Ireland with dementia and Alzheimer's disease is expected to increase.

The CSO has added two new tables of data to its quarterly reports. The new figures revealed that, in the first three months of last year, there were 625 deaths due to dementia. Two thirds of them were women.

In the same period, there were 191 deaths due to Alzheimer's and two out of three were females.

Sunday Independent

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