Using Movement Therapy to Engage the Brain and Ignite Imagination and Conversation

 “We see in order to move; we move in order to see.”  — William Gibson

Seven people circle around the brightly colored piece of cloth, holding its edges and shaking it to the beat of I Love You For Sentimental Reasons.

“What does this fabric remind you of?” asks Natasha Goldstein-Levitas a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania based registered dance/movement therapist who reguarly works with these memory care residents.

“We’re shaking out a tablecloth,” one woman says, giving the cloth a brisk tug.

“We’re hanging clothes outside to dry,” says another.

“We’re cutting up onions for potato salad,” says another.

“When might we eat potato salad?” Natasha asks.4th of july

“A Fourth of July picnic,” a man answers.

Everyone lowers the cloth to the floor and they discuss who might be at the picnic. Perhaps an old friend, a brother, a spouse, a grandchild. When the conversation wanes, Natasha moves around the circle, offering each person a squirt of coconut-scented hand sanitizer and rubbing it into their palms. As Natasha gently massages the fragrant lotion into the hands of a woman who rarely talks or participates, Natasha asks, “What does this fragrance mind you of.”

The woman looks right at her and says, “Hawaii.”

Inviting People Into the Movement

“Any kind of movement can stimulate memory and creativity,” Natasha says. “Movement therapy is based on the principle that the mind and body are connected. It’s about helping the person feel empowered. I try to capitalize on the strengths of each person. We celebrate small successes, even if it’s just on making eye contact, taking deeper breaths, and saying a word.”

She concentrates on simple and focused movements, such as opening and closing the fingers and stretching arms overhead. She narrates every movement and frequently reminds people to breathe deeply.

clementinesSometimes food is integral to the movement. Natasha brings in a basket of Clementines and asks each person to choose one. They hold the fruits, gently squeezing them. They notice how each piece of fruit is unique. Natasha asks questions, such as. “What other orange objects can you think of? What does the aroma remind you of?” While they talk, they massage their arms by rolling the Clementine’s up and down.

In addition to physical movement, Natasha’s activities engage the senses, incorporating textures, aromas, colors, sounds, and tastes.         #

Natasha Goldstein-Levitas, 
R-DMT is a Registered Dance/Movement Therapist with over 14 years of experience working with high functioning to severely cognitively and physically impaired adults and older adults. Natasha’s recent writing will appear as a chapter in: Brooke, S.L. & Myers, C.E. (Eds.). (In press). The use of the creative therapies in treating grief/loss.   http://natashagoldstein.com/

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Good on May 12, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    It’s great to see the techniques being shared so that others can learn the importance of discovering ways to unlock the memories and senses of those with dementia. I really like the idea of fragrance used in conjunction with movement and touch.

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