SCOTTISH Ballet is a world leader in a dance project that helps people with dementia enjoy happier and healthier lives – and its success means it will now be used in care homes around the country.

Time to Dance was set up following scientific research that shows dancing, more than other forms of exercise, leads to improved brain function.

While there are well-established therapeutic dance techniques for Parkinson’s Disease, until now there has been no global model for dance for people with dementia.

“Through their skill and expertise in dance health, alongside consultation and experimentation, Scottish Ballet is discovering its own particular model and best practice,” said Dr Bethany Whiteside, of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who leads on Scottish Ballet’s dance health research.

This unique programme for people with dementia, their families and carers, does not claim to cure dementia but focuses on enhancing quality of life and wellbeing.

“Time to Dance offers people with dementia a chance to express themselves and communicate through dance with their family members and carers,” added Dr Whiteside.

“It offers physical closeness, which inspires and strengthens social closeness, as well as self-efficacy, choice, autonomy and increased confidence – particularly important for people with dementia as they have or feel like they have less autonomy.”

In the weekly free dance sessions, led by a professional dance teacher and musician, family members take their lead from the dancer with dementia by mirroring their movements and pace.

“Communication with a person with dementia can be hard but in the dance class there is no need to communicate verbally so it takes the pressure off and helps with stress,” added Dr Whiteside.

There’s also social time before and after the class, so family members can form their own friendships and get support.

The science behind dance and dementia is impressive – dance has been shown to stimulate the brain in a complex way, through combining physical and cognitive stimulation.

“A 21-year study found out that out of a range of activities, including reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, walking, tennis, and swimming, regular dancing was the only one that reduced the risk of dementia by 76 per cent,” Dr Whiteside said.

“​​In comparison to more sports-based activity, dancing can result in larger volume increases in more areas of the brain owing to its emotional and kinaesthetic nature.”

"Artistry, creativity, performance and dexterity are a powerful combination. Several brain regions are stimulated, so neural connections are strengthened and memory can improve

"The class includes elements of improvisation and freestyle movement which promote neuroplasticity through the constant need for quick reactions increasing, in turn, the brain's cognitive reserve. The more dancing engaged in, the greater the impact as the brain’s neural complex has a greater opportunity to strengthen. This is why it is particularly beneficial that Time to Dance is a three-year programme.”

“The more dancing that takes place, the greater your cognitive reserve as the brain’s neural complex has a greater opportunity to strengthen. This is why it is particularly beneficial that Time to Dance is a three-year programme.”

Lisa Sinclair, Dance Health Manager at Scottish Ballet said: “We start off with a warm up with emphasis on rhythm, followed by a ballet barre section and move onto a travelling sequence and finish with a reverence. It’s wonderful to see the difference dancing makes to both people with dementia and their families, and see them really enjoying themselves and gaining in confidence, as well as the physical benefits of exercise.

“The feedback from participants is encouraging with families and carers saying they often do the shopping after the class as it has set up the person with dementia so well, and that they are more communicative and relaxed.”

One family member said: “We really enjoy ourselves at Time to Dance. I thought my mum would be exhausted when we came home, but instead she was enlivened and singing away.”

Another family member said: “She’s so different when she wakes up on a Monday morning after the class. She’s as bright as a button and full of fun. The class has definite lasting effects too. It’s magical.”

Scottish Ballet, which also offers classes to people with Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, is developing the Time to Dance model to take into care homes, and when the company is on tour around the country they visit care homes as far away as Orkney and the Highlands and Islands.

The weekly drop-in classes held on Sunday in Glasgow and supported by the Life Changes Trust will expand nationally once the model is tried and tested.